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.