Movie Review By Heather Clisby
Written and directed by Jon Reiss, "Cleopatra's Second Husband" is a dark, psychological journey for one man who exists as a useful doormat. Paul Hipp is Robert Mars, a photographer specializing in captured insects, a chosen subject to which he can relate; his strange photographs mirror his life of entrapment.
Married to a shrill, nagging woman named Hallie (played with convincing hideousness by Bitty Schram) who is only interested in sex when ovulating, Robert is the proverbial hen-pecked husband who finds solace in the cultivation of his exotic fish. When he meekly protests to the idea of strangers house-sitting during their two-week vacation, Hallie says, "You'll get over it, you always do" and then introduces Robert to Zack and Sophie, a sexy, young couple recently arrived in Los Angeles from New York, with no fixed address . . . just yet.
The couple's vacation is cut short when Robert gets a long-awaited career opportunity which launches Hallie into an ugly fit of selfish whining. They come home to find that Zack and Sophie have fully moved in and, in their quest to screw in every room in the house, have forgotten to feed Robert's beloved exotic fish. Things are off to a rocky start for the foursome and they are about to get worse.
Several sticky incidents occur that lead to the relieving exit of Hallie and the sexy, manipulative Sophie but no matter, the real drama occurs between the two men. Boyd Kestner is the well-built bully, Zack, and as he takes over the life and identity of his host, the bigger monster he becomes. (I kept having flashbacks of "Naked Lunch" and "Shallow Grave.")
Once a house precisely decorated from the pages of Pottery Barn, the large home gradually becomes littered with take-out cartons and the living room is turned into a basketball court. Eventually, Robert is a maid in his own home, having long ago given up the master bedroom to the dominating couple and moved into the small, dark guest room. He cooks masterful meals for his tormentors, even serving to their guests while eating his supper standing alone in the kitchen, too shy and beaten down to speak to anyone new.
After a couple rounds of particularly vicious behavior from Zack, Robert spirals into a deep depression and rarely leaves his bed. Once he rebounds, he is nicer than ever to Zack and the two even express a real bond especially once Zack falls ill with mysterious and gruesome symptoms.
What has Cleopatra got to do with any of this? Absolutely nothing. Reiss claims it refers to Marc Antony's relationship with the demanding Cleopatra but it this is not about man-and-wife, this is about exploring the age-old male bully/victim paradox. If anything, the marital relationship is completely negated in this film. "Do you love her?" Zack asks Robert of Hallie. "Why does everyone keep asking me that? It doesn't mean anything." And he's right, for Robert, this is a useless emotion.
"Cleopatra's Second Husband" is a clever, dark film exploring a secret within the walls of a home and the mind of a man. What struck me initially was its swift pace; each scene seemed to last only a few minutes before moving quickly onto the next. In fact, most of the beginning seemed in a hurry to get to the third act (satisfying though it may be) and it felt rushed, like the film itself was impatient to get to the juicy parts. Still, very satisfying for anyone who's ever been pushed around. For some, vengeance is a legitimate outlet of creativity and the final outcome is, indeed, art.
© 2000 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 10/11/00
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