Dir: Bille Woodruff. US. 2014. 105mins


A sudden and ill-plotted pivot into thriller territory irrevocably and unfortunately kneecaps any of the last, lingering grander motivations of Addicted, music video director Bille Woodruff’s glossy but intellectually bereft adaptation of a same-named erotic novel, downgrading it from merely shrug-inducing prurient fluff to something more embarrassing. Part soapy melodrama, part steamy thriller of infidelity gone sideways, this film is wholly unconvincing as a study of sexual compulsion.

There used to be a home on late night pay-cable for somewhat tongue-in-cheek psychosexual character studies of this sort, but that’s been more or less obliterated by the steady competitive adoption of more narratively sophisticated fare.

Bypassing traditional media buys and instead employing a heavy grassroots and social media outreach campaign similar to what worked for last year’s stand-up comedy offering Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, also released by Lionsgate subsidiary CodeBlack Entertainment, Addicted should make its box office presence felt in proportional seven-figure territory, before settling into a post-theatrical existence as a solid performer in specialty ancillary markets.

Addicted unfolds in Atlanta, where successful contemporary art manager and mother of two Zoe Reynard (Sharon Leal) is in love with her high-school-sweetheart husband Jason (Boris Kodjoe), an architect. Yet despite her proclamations of a perfect life, Zoe nevertheless finds herself swallowed by resentments from by a hyperactive sex drive, and gripped by intrusive fantasies when she meets artist Quinton Canosa (Cuban-born model-turned-actor William Levy, best known to Stateside audiences for a 2012 stint on Dancing With the Stars). A torrid affair ensues.

She tries fitfully to receive some sort of help from her therapist, Dr. Marcella Spencer (Tasha Smith), but Zoe continues to pursue a secretive agenda full of risks that threaten to unravel all she’s worked for and loves in the world. Thrown for a loop by Quinton’s irritating attachment issues, Zoe seeks further sexual gratification with Corey (Tyson Beckford), who introduces her to S&M sex clubs. With this many men in her life, naturally, something has to give.

Addicted is adapted from a 1998 novel of the same name by Zane, an African-American queen of erotica who has racked up 2.5 million in sales, with a deep roster of other tomes whose titles include the decidedly more memorable The Sisters of APF: The Indoctrination Of Soror Ride Dick and Sex Chronicles II: Gettin’Buck Wild. Screenwriters Christina Welsh and Ernie Barbarash feel held hostage by the overly literal nature of Zane’s plotting (she’s addicted, don’t you see?), which means that repressed secrets are given actual physical representation of menacing foreshadowing in the form of a scar on Zoe’s wrist. Lacking in compelling characterisations, the movie also does a poor job of sketching out temptations, instead habitually bringing heated emotions to a boil in too quick a fashion. Everything and everyone in Addicted is highly reactive.

Woodruff (whose feature film credits include Honey and one of the straight-to-video Bring It On sequels) oversees a technical team that further indulges Zane’s penchant for all things surface. The movie’s sets are scrubbed clean, slick and shot to get their aspirational hooks in viewers; it’s perhaps meant to contrast Zoe’s broken insides, but it more frequently just comes across as artificial and ridiculous.

It’s quite pleasing to see the criminally underutilised Leal (Dreamgirls, Why Did I Get Married?) get a chance to tackle a leading role, and she is far and away the best thing about the film. If Beckford and most especially Levy seem to have trouble finding any emotionally consistent through-line in their hunky, eye-candy characters, it perhaps tracks unintentionally as commentary on the criminally underwritten parts of pure plot-advancement foisted upon so many parallel young actresses.

There used to be a home on late night pay-cable for somewhat tongue-in-cheek psychosexual character studies of this sort, but that’s been more or less obliterated by the steady competitive adoption of more narratively sophisticated fare. The sort of schlocky impulses Addicted aims to service aren’t completely outmoded or unworthy, but they do seem a poor fit for this medium — the dark “motivations” the movie pays off in its ramshackle finale underscoring its status as pap in such a way as to elicit shame, guilt and other similar feelings one might want to discuss with a therapist.

Production companies: CodeBlack Entertainment, Paul Hall Productions

Domestic distribution: Lionsgate Films, www.lionsgate.com

Producer: Paul Hall

Executive producers: Charisse Nesbit, Zane

Co-producer: Jennifer Booth

Screenplay: Christina Welsh & Ernie Barbarash, based on the novel by Zane

Cinematography: Joseph White

Production designer: Jeffrey Pratt Gordon

Editor: Bruce Cannon

Music: Aaron Zigman

Website: http://www.Facebook.com/Addicted

Main cast: Sharon Leal, Boris Kodjoe, William Levy, Tasha Smith, Tyson Beckford, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Kat Graham, Maria Howell