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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Better Living Through Chemistry' plays out like axed HBO series

Better Living through Chemistry

(R)

2 out of 4 stars

Arriving with next-to-no-notice and zero fanfare, “Better Living Through Chemistry” has all of the makings for a dangerously wicked satire feature yet ultimately plays out more like an HBO series that got the ax before it aired because it tried to be too cute in the pilot episode.

On the heels of his brilliant turn in “The Way, Way Back,” Sam Rockwell stars as Douglas, the milquetoast husband of Kara (Michelle Monoghan), an exercise-addicted shrew whose father Walter (Ken Howard) — who hates his son-in-law — has just sold Douglas his pharmacy (but not the coveted, instantly recognizable small town brand name). A man of questionable skill and a tendency to accommodate everyone like a doormat, Douglas finds a welcome port in the storm via Elizabeth (Olivia Wilde, expectedly smoldering), the trophy wife of an often absent husband (Ray Liotta).

After some piddling, time-wasting exposition, co-writer/directors David Posamentier and Geoff Moore get to the point. Elizabeth is bored, likes to be high on any number of different drugs and likes even more to be paid attention to by someone her own age that can service her in the bedroom and the chemical arena.

Tentative at first and deathly fearful that he could lose his career and marriage, Douglas soon throws caution to the wind and dives into the deep end without regard to the consequences, which is understandable considering Elizabeth is being played by Olivia Wilde.

Clocking in at less than 80 minutes, “BLTC” actually feels longer thanks to extremely ill-advised voice over narration from Jane Fonda as herself, or something like herself. Perhaps thinking their narrative wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own, the filmmakers’ inclusion of Fonda is beyond clunky and lends the production a forced and uneasy air that suggests “Body Heat” by way of “Desperate Housewives.” At one point Fonda comments on the Kara character with an all-too-knowing reference to her own experience as a video exercise magnate, which completely crushes the suspension of disbelief.

It would be interesting to see this film had it been made with the assorted performers who preceded Wilde and Rockwell in their respective roles. At various points, Paul Rudd, Jeremy Renner and Ben Affleck were on board to play Douglas with Affleck’s wife Jennifer Garner as the original choice for Elizabeth and Judi Dench performing Fonda’s duties. It’s probably safe to say Dench’s dialogue would not have included any kind of exercise reference. (Samuel Goldwyn)