‘Addicted’ Review: Director Bille Woodruff Offers Sex, Shame and Clumsy Melodrama

Solid cast can’t overcome film’s uninspired and scatterbrained script that all too often has the flat, dead sound of a first draft

Sharon Leal stars in "Addicted"

With its story of a married woman led astray into an affair by her sex addiction, “Addicted” doesn’t fail because it wants to provide steamy, soapy melodrama to a mainstream audience; its faults are a function of its judgment, not of its genre.

Adapting the work of the best-selling author Zane (aka Kristina Roberts), director Bille Woodruff (“Honey,” “Beauty Shop”) is trapped by Christina Welsh and Ernie Barbarash’s script. The material swings between the sensual and the puritanical with whiplash-inducing speed; the dialogue all too often has the flat, dead sound of a first draft.

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As played by Sharon Leal, we first meet Zoe Reynard parking her Mercedes curbside, fixing her bag and “Scandal“-esque houndstooth coat before heading for her first appointment with therapist Dr. Marcella Spencer (Tasha Smith), taking in the gazes of attentive men and rubbing at a scar on her wrist the whole way. Zoe explains to Dr. Spencer how she’s stumbled into an affair, despite the fact she and her husband Jason (Boris Kodjoe) have great careers, great kids and often have sex, as she specifies-slash-brags, “two or three times a day.” Well, she needs more.

Certainly, desire’s cruel escalation into near-madness has been tackled by other filmmakers — Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” from earlier this year, for but one example — and, just like in that case, the attempt to tackle a complex, meaningful issue does not always guarantee complex, meaningful work. With its sex scenes and shaming, dirty deeds and dime-store psychological insights, it’s not just that “Addicted” wants to have its cake and eat it too, it then wants to blame the cake for being so wickedly delicious in the first place.

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In a piece of dramatic foreshadowing that you can see coming for miles and even then takes its time arriving, it of course turns out that Zoe’s sex addiction is related to her sexual assault as a child. It’s not just the broad-brush and forced sense of causality that damages what the film could have been, it’s the water-torture drip of the tediousness it takes to get to that reveal, too.

The performers are easy to watch, even when the script plays with their characters as a matter of convenience. The artist Zoe begins her affair with, Quinton Canosa (William Levy), is initially a sensitive sensualist with eyes as deep as his abs are defined; his entreaties to Zoe all persuasion and no brutality. Later, though, Levy has to do such a 180-degree turn he nearly flips over, with Quinton slashing a painter’s knife at Zoe while hissing dialogue like, “You made me want you!” Zoe has orgasms and crying jags, and is driven to both self-pleasure and self-harm; we’re supposed to enjoy watching her sins and also, it would seem, enjoy watching her suffer for them.

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Director Woodruff finds glamour and grit in Atlanta’s nightscape, and cinematographer Joseph White has a passable sense of clean, clear composition, even if the film’s look is more Cinemax than cinematic. The production design, costuming and props all communicate the film’s well-to-do fantasy world, even if some touches are cliché (there’s a de rigueur shot of the red soles of Zoe’s Louboutins) and others are simply comical, like a trip to a laughably-designed and depicted “sex club,” shot in druggy, slowed-down perv-o-vision.

Featuring plot moments stolen from sources as diverse as “Die Hard” and “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Addicted” is ultimately undone by its schizoid approach to the ideas possibly being explored and definitely being exploited in the film’s story. Not to borrow too much of the language of the film’s title metaphor, but despite its charismatic cast and because of its script and source material, moviegoers tempted by the chance to see “Addicted” should make the wise choice and just say ‘No.’