Daddy Issues: Lured Innocence (2000)

Dave continues his short season of post-Millennium direct-to-video Dennis Hopper films with this discordant potboiler.

For the sake of convenience, you could simplistically divvy up Dennis Hopper’s career into the stoned era (c. Easy Rider (1969)), the psycho era (c. Blue Velvet (1986)), and, latterly, the pervy era. It has a ring to it, no?

From Bruno Barreto’s Acts of Love (1996), featuring a smouldering Amy Locane, to Paul Lynch’s seedy Asia Argento-starrer The Keeper (2004), Hopper seemed drawn to the theme of a middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with a nubile young woman. LURED INNOCENCE is a compelling example of this libidinous cycle, albeit one that doesn’t quite live up to its prurient provocations.

Elden Tolbert (Devon Gummersall) is a reporter for an out-of-state newspaper who hears about the trial of hometown girl Elsie Townsend (Marley Shelton). Heading back to where he grew up, he recalls the story of Elsie’s encounter with the flirtatious Rick Chambers (Hopper), who, despite being married to the ailing Martha (Talia Shire), engages in a steamy affair with the young blonde which subsequently spirals into a murderous manoeuvre.

A motion picture in three parts, Lured Innocence is defined by its imbalance and a distinctly uneven pace. Moving from seduction to alibi to courtroom thriller, Les Diaboliques (1955) it ain’t (although a clunky reference to Clouzot’s film is noted). Rick’s temptation of Elsie takes barely five minutes of screen time, while Shelton’s no nudity clause give the sex scenes a distinctly small screen flavour, starved of both eroticism and passion.

Noirish tropes bring forth a degree of intrigue around the half hour mark, and the inclusion of the scene-chewing Shire adds a degree of class, but the fading out of Hopper in the final third for the charisma-free Gummersall undoes much of the good work laid by writer-director Kikuo Kawasaki.

It had been fifteen years since the steamy, Sybil Danning led Private Passions (1985), his last megaphone-wielding gig, and Kawasaki had only just returned to the coalface of the film business by producing a threesome of genre pictures that included the mighty Milo (1998) with Vincent Schiavelli. On his audio commentary for Lured Innocence, Kawasaki makes no secret of the fact that he’d hoped for Lara Flynn Boyle for the lead role, but to his frustration she had prior commitments. It’s clear this would have been a game changer in terms of the tone of the piece, but even with the absence of sexual intensity, Marley Shelton is great casting. Naturally beautiful with a teasing innocence, she nails so many facets of Elsie’s character. In fact, the financiers had originally poo-pooed her casting, but after an intervention from Hopper (who had approval over the lead) she was begrudgingly given the green light.

Shot with confidence by Irek Hartowicz, whose panoramic eye lifted classic DTV’ers like Avi Nesher’s Mercenary (1996) and J.S Cardone’s Outside Ozona (1998), small-town Mississippi looks just great.  Released on VHS by Artisan in December of 2000, the film circumvented UK home entertainment but did show up in Germany a year later as ‘Evil Affairs’ and landed in Poland as ‘Alibi’.

Whatever the criticisms, Kawasaki’s intentions are undoubtedly admirable and you do feel begrudgingly compelled to tip your hat towards his ambition, because irrespective of its inadequacies, Lured Innocence is a tentative yet ultimately flawed recommendation.

USA ● 2000 ● Drama, Thriller ● 99mins

Dennis Hopper, Marley Shelton, Devon Gummersall, Talia Shire ● Wri./Dir. Kikuo Kawasaki

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