Web of the Spiderwoman

"Welcome to Beston," the sign reads, "Home of the Bulldogs."
It's a safe bet that the folks residing in that sleepy little upstate New York town never met a bulldog like Bridget Gregory (a.k.a. Wendy Kroy). Bridget is a Manhattan girl from the top of her impenetrable black shades to the tip of her lethal black pumps. The kind who can talk her husband into borrowing money from a loan shark to pull off a drug deal, then abscond with the loot when he turns his back. The kind who can effortlessly seduce a cocksure young Beston stud who thinks he's meant for bigger things, then manipulate him to do whatever she wants. The kind who can outwit a hardened private eye who is holding a gun to her head. The kind who goes through men the way she goes through condoms, and has even less difficulty discarding them once they've served her purpose. The kind whose cynical attorney asks her, "Anyone checked you for a heartbeat lately?"

They probably wouldn't find one if they did. When we first meet the bitch-goddess femme fatale at the core of John Dahl's The Last Seduction, she's a driving, pitiless, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, telemarketing boiler-room supervisor. What better profession for the coldest, most calculating bad girl since Kathleen Turner vamped her way through Body Heat? The latter movie's hapless protagonist just as easily could have been describing Linda Fiorentino's Bridget when he characterized the woman who did him in as "relentless."

Based on a wholly unscientific survey of movie-savvy females of my acquaintance, Bridget is about to achieve folk-hero status. Not since Thelma & Louise have this many intelligent, articulate women cheered the cinematic exploits of a woman wreaking havoc upon the masculine gender. There isn't one man in the movie that Bridget doesn't dupe A with the notable exception of her above-mentioned unprincipled lawyer who, presumably, has professional admiration for her gift for treachery.

But you can't exactly work up a lot of sympathy for the boys. Without exception, they fall prey to Bridget's duplicity because of their own backward, patronizing, stereotypical views of women. Her husband (Bill Pullman in an inspired twist on his usual nice-guy roles) makes three fatal mistakes: First, he lets her talk him into doing the drug deal; second, he slaps her (just once, but a woman like Bridget doesn't wait around long enough to give you a second shot); finally, after she runs away, the fool fancies himself attractive and/or threatening enough to persuade her to come back home, return the moolah, and let bygones be bygones.

Bridget flees the city and, on her attorney's advice, winds up cooling her heels in Beston. She quickly lands a telemarketing job under an assumed name -- Wendy Kroy -- after playing on the sympathies of a solicitous male personnel director who falls for her song and dance about being chased by an abusive husband. Wendy meets Mike (Peter Berg looking like Mickey Rourke's clean-cut younger brother) in a Beston bar. She parries every one of his come-ons with a devastating putdown, but the young buck refuses to take no for an answer. When, in a parting shot, he brags of being hung like a horse, she calls his bluff and examines the goods right there in her booth at the speakeasy. Mike figures a night of hot sex will melt the cool faaade; he awakens the following morning to find Wendy rummaging through his refrigerator and calling long-distance over his phone. When he turns his back, she stubs out her cigarette in a slice of Mike's grandmother's homemade apple pie.

Mike's conviction that deep down Wendy really loves him in spite of all the evidence to the contrary (everyone knows that women need love, not just sex) eventually does him in. He wants her to share her inner thoughts; she insists on tenderly referring to him as her "designated fuck."

"What if I don't want to be your designated fuck?" he whines.
"I'll designate someone else," she retorts.
Mike is the closest thing to a sympathetic male lead the film has to offer. In the grand tradition of every black-widow movie since Double Indemnity, he is way out of his league with Wendy. He realizes it too, but he's too weak to stop himself. He eventually will pay the price, as will every male who makes the critical mistake of underestimating the femme fatale's ruthless cunning. The genre demands nothing less. Make no mistake about it, from the moneyed husband to the patsy boyfriend to the sleazy PIs to the bonehead cops to the double-crossing wife, The Last Seduction is classic film noir, and Linda Fiorentino's Bridget Gregory is right up there with the baddest bad girls of them all.

 
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