Starring: Kurt Russell, Madeline Stowe, Ray Liotta, Roger E. Mosely
Rated R for Terror and Violence, and for Sexuality and Language
"Unlawful Entry" is a mediocre "stranger within" thriller; better than "The Resident" but certainly nowhere near the level of "Fear," or more appropriately, "Fatal Attraction." With its pedestrian direction, bland screenplay and flat performances, it's just poor filmmaking. But more than that, it feels like a missed opportunity. After all, what could be scarier than being terrorized by a police officer?
Michael (Russell) and Karen (Stowe) Carr are settling in for the night when their home is burglarized. While Karen is briefly taken hostage, she escapes without a scratch and the robber flees. Two police officers, Officer Pete Davis (Liotta) and Officer Roy Cole (Mosely), answer the call. Michael plans on buying a gun, but Pete talks him into getting a security system instead. Pete is one hell of a nice guy: he takes care of the security system installation and takes Michael on a ride-along. Michael is impressed until Pete invites him to beat the crap out of the robber. Michael wants to distance himself from the clearly unbalanced officer, but Karen thinks he's great...at least at first.
Two things are required for a thriller like this to succeed: pacing and character development. Pacing is essential for any thriller (actually, every film needs to be paced appropriately in order for it to work). But character development is non-negotiable for a "stranger within" thriller, especially when it comes to the villain. The audience must understand his mindset, his motivation, and what he is capable of. Without that, the movie won't work. While the screenplay (credited to three different people...not a good sign) offers some details about Pete's personality, including possible PTSD, they're dropped as soon as they're raised. As such, Pete is a one-dimensional psychopath. Compare him to Alex Forrest, who was a fully-realized woman. There was a wealth of material that could have been explored to give the film a bigger punch, but sadly, it takes the easy way out at every turn.
None of the three leads possesses great dramatic range. Despite being well-known as a pleasant family man off-screen, Ray Liotta has a reputation for playing psychopathic characters ("Turbulence" being the exception since he was so over-the-top that he became comical). So the villain in a "stranger within" movie would seem like a good fit for him, but it's not. While there is definitely some menace here and there, Pete eventually comes across as cartoonish (the screenplay is partially at fault). Former Disney kid Kurt Russell is effective, but the screenplay lets him down; any false moments in his performance (of which, thankfully, there are only a few) are a direct result of that. Ditto for Madeline Stowe. Stowe is usually a good actress even in bad movies ("Pulse," "The General's Daughter"), but she's stiff in the role of the misled wife. I expected better from her. Special mention has to go to Roger E. Mosely, who is just awful as Pete's partner. Nothing that comes out of his mouth convinces.
The film was directed by Jonathan Kaplan, whose career has turned to TV episodes. The film actually feels like a TV movie; visually stale and episodic. Instead of raising the stakes, he concentrates on a few things that Pete does to terrorize the Carrs and expands upon them. That's not the way to make this kind of a movie. The villain must push his victims closer and closer to the edge; once we see what he does, the film must move on.
Skip this one and watch "Fatal Attraction" again. That movie at least understood the rules.