Grade: D

They’ve taken the “Fatal” out of the title, but this grubby little would-be thriller, the debut feature from writer-director Russell DeGrazier, is basically a gender-switching variant on the 1987 Glenn Close-Michael Douglas opus about sexual obsession. (It was also previously titled “Rules of Attraction,” but perhaps the name was changed to avoid confusion with Brett Easton Ellis’ book of that name.) Whatever you call it, the picture is a murky, disagreeable talkfest that bores you for ninety minutes before exploding in a paroxysm of unconvincing climactic twists. Lot of straight-to-video movies are better than this.

As “Attraction” opens, we find Matthew (Matthew Settle), a seedily handsome L.A. columnist, stalking his erstwhile girlfriend Liz (Gretchen Mol). But despite his lurking outside her window and occasionally battering her door, she neglects to contact the police or seek a restraining order; she simply asks him rather too sweetly to leave. Matthew responds by linking up with an old buddy of Liz’s, aspiring actress Corey (Samantha Mathis), aiming to bed her in order to make Liz jealous and come back to him, but gradually he comes to care for her, too. Meanwhile Garrett (Tom Everett Scott), Matthew’s boss and buddy, comes to Liz’s aid, trying to end his friend’s obsessive conduct out of apparently altruistic motives (which turn out not to be so chummy after all); and Liz shows herself more than a little cunning and manipulative herself. The finale involves sudden character switches, violence, and a series of coincidences designed to bring about a satisfying denouement; but it only seems forced and half-baked.

Throughout the picture one senses that DeGrazier wants to say something about the contortions and imperfections of romantic relationships among the contemporary thirty-something set, but his efforts are stymied by the repetitive nature of the script, some cruelly melodramatic contrivances, and a few really awful lines. Every fifteen minutes or so, for example, one of the guys is pounding on one of the gals’ doors, begging vociferously to be let in; while one can appreciate how this might annoy the neighbors (who nonetheless seem never to complain), it’s the audience that bears the brunt of the irritation. About an hour in, moreover, we’re forced to endure a strobe-light sequence–always a mistake–while Corey appears nude onstage reciting an embarrassing monologue about womanhood. Just ghastly. And near the close, Garrett speaks to Liz about Matthew’s obsession by saying, “It’s like he’s an alcoholic and you’re a vodka martini.” You don’t get to hear dialogue like that in an actual theatre very often nowadays–thank heaven.

Still, the shoddiness of the script can’t entirely obscure the attractiveness of the cast. Settle, though occasionally too mannered for his own good, is an ingratiating presence (you can always tell he’s not truly evil, just misguided); and Mathis gives a nicely shaded, rather touching turn as a woman accustomed to being scorned. Mol does as well as could be expected in a role that’s opaque and underwritten. Scott is suitably oily as a friend who’s not as good as he appears, but even he can’t persuade us that Garrett’s change of character is truly plausible.

“Attraction” is punctuated by bits of an interview Matthew gives to an unseen interlocutor after the drama has been played out. Most of what he has to say isn’t terribly revealing–it consists largely of shallow self-reflection–but one of his lines can serve as a suitable epitaph for the picture itself. “Sad, isn’t it?” he inquires rhetorically. No lie.