March 26 2010 12:00 AM

Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore generate some steam in "Chloe," but a feeble finale spoils the mood

    Chloe_5_1.jpgThe younger woman pours a steady stream of sugar into her
    coffee cup. Her life could use a little sweetening up: She’s Chloe, a call girl
    who lives out other people’s fantasies while shutting out her own. “I can
    become your first kiss, or a torn-out image from a Playboy magazine you saw
    when you were 9 years old,” she says. “I can become your living, breathing
    dream. Then I can disappear.”

    In the eyes of another woman, that same stream of sugar
    might represent sand rushing through an hourglass. She’s Catherine, a
    gynecologist who once thought she was happily married and a good mom; now,
    she’s not sure she qualifies for either category. Her husband, David, is almost
    certainly cheating on her, and her teenage son, Michael, finds her more
    annoying than admirable.

    “I think I’m 19, and then I look in the mirror,” Catherine
    says, “and I’m this old person.”

    The worlds of Chloe and Catherine collide in director Atom
    Egoyan’s “Chloe,” which creates a compelling, offbeat situation in its first
    hour before unraveling in its final reels. The movie is anchored by a
    spellbinding performance by Amanda Seyfried as the enigmatic Chloe and a
    potent, typically rich turn by Julianne Moore as Catherine, who keeps us
    guessing about whether she finds Chloe enviable or contemptible, irresistible
    or insufferable. Liam Neeson plays the sad-eyed David, and Max Thieriot is cast
    as Michael, who lives in his parents’ house, but doesn’t feel obliged to follow
    his mother’s rules; both men are very good, but “Chloe” is almost entirely
    Seyfried and Moore’s show.

    Erin Cressida Wilson’s screenplay, a curious mixture of
    valid observations about mid-life misgivings and far-fetched complications, has
    Catherine sending Chloe on a peculiar mission: Sweet-talk David into bed, and
    share whatever information she can piece together about why he is the way he
    is. Chloe succeeds — hardly surprising, since Seyfried’s angelic face, devilish
    smile and willowy body make Megan Fox look about as hot as Grandma Moses.

    The characters in Egoyan’s best films (“Exotica,” “The Sweet
    Hereafter”) seem to float in an atmosphere above the Earth, in which time
    passes a little slower and environments always seem a bit more amplified.
    “Chloe” presents Toronto as a sleek sexual playpen, in which glasses of
    chardonnay sparkle like streetlights and a stroll through a botanical garden is
    like a tour of Eden. The seductive set-up is also reminiscent of the great
    mid-1980s work of director Alan Rudolph (“Choose Me,” “Trouble in Mind”), who
    also enjoyed turning relationships inside out. There’s a chill beneath the
    steaminess, a growing awareness that everyone involved is making decisions that
    can only lead to disaster.

    Unfortunately, in the last half-hour, “Chloe” loses its
    balance and begins sliding perilously close to hysterical camp. While Seyfried
    and Moore give it their all, they can’t save the film once it goes into its
    tailspin. The first two-thirds of “Chloe” are sexy soap opera; the feeble
    finale is a very cold morning-after shower.