Since the late 90’s, our country seems to be caught up in a maelstrom of sex scandals involving high profile officials. Names like Larry Craig, Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer have fed the omnivorous media cycle with sexually explicit and corrupt tales of possible restroom trysts, prostitution, and even rumored in-office lovemaking. It’s impossible these guys were the pioneers of this sordid activity. Times have changed drastically while the public scrutiny and celebrity status applied to our officials has grown exponentially. These stories have simply become post-modern substitutions for the paperback romance novel.
In Mora Stephens’ new film, Zipper, the lead character of Sam Ellis (Patrick Wilson) is an up and coming lawyer who finds himself way in over his head and gravitating towards a life full of sexual addiction with the compulsory need to visit high-class websites that cater to his unfaithful needs. Ellis is fictional, of course, and Zipper in no way presents itself as a docudrama of any one man’s actual life. We’re meant to draw our own assumptions and parallels about the connections to Eliot Spitzer, much in the same way Abel Ferrara’s masterful Welcome To New York recreates the lightning bolt scandal of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape charges in 2011. Yet, creative anonymity aside, it is perhaps this avoidance of any real indictment that lessens the power of Zipper. By nibbling at the edges of ‘verite,’ it’s a film that has little bite within its well-tread ideas of corruptible power situated within the Lifetime channel movie conventions.
When we first meet Sam Ellis, he’s celebrating a case with associates when his back alley smoke break with a female intern progresses into a short kiss. Shrugging it off as simple flirtation, he manages to avoid that pitfall and return home to his loving wife (Lena Headey).
The surface of Sam’s vulnerability towards sex begins to shuffle soon afterwards, though, when his wife and son leave for the weekend and the temptation to explore an escort service website creeps up. Previously introduced to the site by a witness whose deposition he took part in earlier, Sam soon finds himself meeting countless women from the website in upscale hotels.
To complicate matters, Sam is involved with his eventual immersion into a political candidacy race led by whip-smart public relations manager George Hiller (Richard Dreyfuss). His own prosecuting office also gets wind of illicit activity involving the website, which not only causes Sam to try and cover-up his online footprint, but hamper the ongoing investigation.
As if all this stress weren’t enough, a journalist (Ray Winstone), is hot on the trail of the same story and his intentions may be just as seedy as Sam himself.
The basic idea of Zipper and all films that deal with a sexual potboiler theme like this is how long will our fallible protagonist be able to stay one step ahead of the truth. Sam goes through endless pre-paid cell phones, maxed out credit cards and sweaty lies to his family, but the film never exposes any real depth or personality about Sam as a person. This is a narrative full of characters we’ve seen hundreds of times, which is a shame because every single one of the cast has the ability to raise the material beyond its stale formula.
As a film ripped from the salacious headlines of real life, Zipper manages to be both tired and probably less interesting than the actual events it purports to resemble.
Zipper opens in North Texas on Friday, August 28 at the AMC Grapevine Mills.