A few steamy sex scenes, a narrow wreck with a Ferrari and an explosion aboard a yacht help to liven up Bob Swaim's Masquerade (1988) a rather meandering but occasionally amiable thriller set against the moneyed backdrop of the Hamptons. Writers Dick Wolf (of Law & Order fame) and Larry Brody iron out the many kinks in this twisted lover's triangle turned murderous with relative ease and David Watkins' cinematography provides some rather alluring eye candy along the way. Ditto for Kim Cattrall’s gratuitous full frontal nudity – an incredible body largely wasted in a story that is decidedly anything but a work of art. The film is hampered by some rather hammy acting that never entirely gets off the ground.
Masquerade stars then resident teen heartthrob Rob Lowe as yachtsman Tim Whalen, a no account drifter who lands a lucrative gig racing the sailboat 'Obsession' for Granger Morrison (Brian Davies). Morrison's a rich heel who is so involved with sailing that he is oblivious to the fact that his wife, Brooke (Kim Cattrall) is having a rather torrid affair with Tim. Meanwhile, in another part of town heiress Olivia Lawrence (Meg Tilly) has just returned home after graduating from college to learn that her stepfather Tony Gateworth (John Glover) has wasted no time after the death of her mother, to hook up with Anne Briscoe (Dana Delany). Naturally, this does not make for many happy times at the Lawrence summer home.
Tony is a lush and a womanizer who is constantly goading and threatening Olivia. He will never abandon her late mother's fortune by remarrying. Olivia's only friend - or so it seems - is Mike McGill (Doug Savant); a boyhood sweetheart turned police officer. Mike's still stuck on Olivia. But she openly tells him her feelings for him do not run as deep. At a fashionable outdoor party Olivia is introduced to Tim. They share a dance and develop an immediate connection that escalates into unrequited lust before the night is through. Tim pursues Olivia, leaving Brooke bitter and vindictive. Eventually, Tim and Olivia marry. But the romance is not as it seems. In fact, Tim is in cahoots with Tony and Mike to murder Olivia and split her inheritance three ways amongst them. One problem: Tim has developed a backbone as well as a genuine affection for the woman whose bed he now shares.
Very reluctantly Tim agrees to go along with the first murder plot as concocted by Tony. The plan is for Tim to seduce Olivia, for Tony to burst in on them, supposedly drunk and with a gun, and in the ensuing struggle for the gun to 'accidentally' go off and shoot Olivia. Instead, Tim wrestles the gun away from Tony and shoots him dead. Olivia tells Mike that she shot her stepfather in self-defense after he attempted to rape her. But Anne suspects murder and unknowingly telephones Mike to inform him that he should be shadowing Tim. Instead, Mike murders Anne and makes it look like a suicide, all the while planning to incriminate Tim in both murders unless he kills Olivia.
Plan B is for Tim to cut the gas line on Olivia's yacht, 'Masquerade' then invite her to go sailing. But Mike suspects that Tim will not go through with this scenario either. So he arrives on board the night before, cuts the line himself and plants a live rat inside the cabin to measure the output of gas. The next day Olivia leaves the house to go sailing. Arriving later, Tim is told by one of the house servants that Olivia has already left for the Masquerade. Realizing what Mike has done Tim frantically races to the marina.
In his single-minded heroism he overlooks the fact that Olivia has stopped to talk to friends, races aboard the Masquerade and is blown to bits. Olivia is taken to Mike's office by one of the first responding officers and sees a newspaper clipping of Mike and Tim chummy with Tony. She now realizes that the three have been working against her all along. She confronts Mike, who attempts to murder her in broad daylight. Instead, Olivia pushes Mike out a second story window to his death. At Tim's burial Olivia is told by her trusted Uncle Charles (Ira Wheeler) - who also happens to be managing the family estate - that her late husband came to him and made the request to be taken out of Olivia's will should anything happen to her. Olivia realizes that Tim really loved her and is able to move on.
Masquerade is deceptively slick and stylish. As a thriller it is rather weak on motive. For example; there's really no reason for Tony to want Olivia dead. He is already living off her mother's money. If he is as greedy as we are led to believe then why should he agree to a three-way split of the inheritance with Mike and Tim for their complicity in Olivia's murder? To marry Anne and see half of the inheritance go to her should that marriage not last? I don't think so! Mike's motives for wanting Olivia gone are even more muddled. There is some hint of homo-eroticism between Mike and Tim, particularly in a scene where Mike concocts murder plot #2 aboard the Masquerade in his underwear while taking Tim's face in his hands. But Mike has been infatuated with Olivia since they were children. Why he should suddenly want her dead, even if he is gay, makes very little sense.
The chief problem with Masquerade as a thriller is that the actors are tragically out of their depth. Meg Tilly's blushing WASP is fatally neutral. There's no hint of goodness, sexual awakening or probing curiosity about her. In fact, she is the bluntest tool in the shed. Rob Lowe gets his kicks feeling up the exotic Cattrall but these sequences are gratuitous and barely have anything to do with the central plot. Lowe's Tim is a rather spineless toad. By the time he decides he loves his wife it's too late for him to do anything about it. He dies a virtuous man in Olivia's eyes despite the fact that he's told so many lies to her along the way.
In spite of its many incoherent and dangling plot lines Masquerade holds together. It is perhaps the quintessential 'puff piece' from the 1980s - a decade rife with such well-intended, though rather poorly executed story lines. Is it worth a second look? Yes. Will it live on in your memory once you've seen it? Probably not.
MGM's DVD flipper disc contains an anamorphic widescreen and full frame edition of the film. For the purposes of this review only the widescreen version was viewed. The image is rather satisfying. Although contrast levels are a tad weaker than anticipated, overall we get a smooth rendering with solid colors and just a hint of grain. At times the image is impressively sharp, though overall there is a rather soft look to everything. Flesh tones are nicely realized. Reds look red, rather than orangey red. The audio is 'Stereo Surround' and adequate. No, it won't break any reference quality records, and yes - at times it is painfully dated with some rather obvious overdubbing, but hey - it was the 80s. There are NO extras. Bottom line: recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)