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Cleopatra's Second Husband

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Cleopatra's Second Husband

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Neurotic photographer Paul Hipp can't stand his life, in part because his shrill, domineering wife (Bitty Schram) micromanages his daily existence down to their primed-for-pregnancy sex schedule. The two go on a much-needed vacation, leaving their L.A. home in the care of a couple (Radha Mitchell and Boyd Kestner), friends of friends, who appear to be their polar opposites: sexually voracious, aggressively laid-back, and (inevitably) just a little bit eccentric. When Hipp returns home early for a prominent assignment, for some reason Schram lets the sketchy couple stick around longer. Bad idea. What begins as a portrayal of marital crisis, right down to the symbolic use of dead fish and roadkill, eventually flies off the rails into ridiculous psychosexual obsession. Writer-director Jon Reiss cut his teeth on MTV (he also made the rave documentary Better Living Though Circuitry), and, like a lot of video directors, he has an eye for light and color but no feel for characters or a good story. As soon as Cleopatra's Second Husband dives into the already-left-field realm of nightmarish domestic dysfunction, it would seem that it has nowhere else to go. But Reiss keeps pushing it into places it shouldn't go, leading to a painful—and not in the psychological sense—third act that makes sense only in a pointlessly sadistic, late-night-cable sort of way. Unless, of course, pointless sadism is the point, in which case the dubious and queasily fascistic notion of victimization as a form of therapy comes across as no less uncomfortable and no more plausible.