CLEOPATRAS SECOND HUSBAND
The film starts out as a variant on the unwelcome-stranger(s)-in-the-house psycho-thriller a la Funny Games (1997), Pacific Heights (1990) and the later With a Friend Like Harry (2000), which has many similarities to this. Jon Reiss sets up a scenario of stifling yuppiedom that is just begging to be upset. Bitty Schramm gives a particularly alarming performance here as an out-of-control breeder chick, turning her husbands desire for sex down with lines like: Wed be wasting perfectly good sperm. Her upset at discovering him with attached nipple clamps! in the arms of Radha Mitchell is not so much at finding him with another woman as to how this reflects on their planned pregnancy: I cant believe youd do this to me Im probably going to ovulate any day now.
Jon Reisss direction is a little too quiet and understated. Paul Hipp gives a performance that is, even right up until the end, passive to the point one wants to shake him and yell Get a backbone. However, just when the film seems to be heading along predictable pathways, Reiss starts to throw all manner of bizarre spins. He intriguingly defines the relationship between besieged homeowners and tormenting tenants in terms of sexual relationships, an area where the pristine Pacific Heights never thought to venture. The issue is made pointedly clear in the direct cuts between Paul Hipp and Bitty Schramms passionless procreative attempts and Boyd Kestner and Radha Mitchells heated rutting against a wall. In his first twist, Reiss gets the women out of the scene and has Boyd Kestner force himself on Paul Hipp and the relationship develop into a dom/sub gay relationship, one where tenant Kestner uses home-owner Hipp as a total doormat. This place is getting untidy. If youre not going to clean, can you at least hire a housekeeper? he announces. The film becomes really strange when Paul Hipp starts to poison Boyd Kestner, ending with a startling situation where the film enters well into genre territory not unlike the ending of The Vanishing (1988). By this point, Cleopatra's Second Husband has become a rather compulsive vehicle.
One thing though what on Earth does the title mean? There is nobody named Cleopatra in the film, nor anybody who has a second husband. Maybe there is some subtle meaning intended in regard to the films relationships but it is a point that eludes one.
Jon Reiss has only made two other films subsequently with the documentaries Bomb It (2007) and Bomb It 2 (2010)
(Nominee for Best Actress (Bitty Schramm) at this sites Best of 1998 Awards).