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  • Warning: Spoilers
    I watched Woody Allen's stinker "Irrational Man" just before catching up with Paul Thomas's decade-old picture "To Die For", and the contrast in accomplishment is striking -all in favor of PT. Unlike the Woodman, Thomas cares about each of his seven major characters and makes sure that their actions are not only believable but moving, while Allen's protagonists are phony puppets.

    The well-crafted screenplay by Raven Touchstone and Dean Nash is the springboard for a riveting drama that combines soap operatics with melodrama. By the halfway mark, when all the personages had been introduced and their relationships made clear, I felt like I was watching a real movie, not a porn video.

    Most complex role goes to Kurt Lockwood, a layabout engaged to be married soon to young Haley Paige, but having an affair with married lady Liza Harper. Script has many "will he or won't he" scenes of the character torn between the 2 women, some of which are nearly unplayable, but he manages to be convincing and surprise the viewer while maintaining a basically hissable persona -achievement earning him a (usually unreliable) industry award.

    Central roles go to the ladies: Austin Kincaid (an unsung thesp who resembles superstar Sydnee Steele) as Tommy Gunn's wife, threatened by latter's infidelity; and Monique Alexander, new next door neighbor to Austin & Tommy, who's married to superstar hunk Manuel Ferrara. When Gunn's long-ago relationship to Monique is revealed, along with her scandalous past, all hell breaks loose, leading to a powerful and dramatic conclusion.

    I believed all of these seven people were real, and could identify with their issues, even when they were behaving badly. That's because PT cares deeply about constructing a scene, adding unexpected novelty but avoiding stylistic self- indulgence, and worrying about the film as a whole, not just (the pitfall of 99% of today's pornographers) trying to create individual sexy scenes. In fact, "To Die For" is not structured in today's separate, suitable for streaming sex scene structure, but plays as an organic feature, even containing stop and start sex scenes as one where Austin and Gunn clinch and she immediately throws him out the door instead of the inevitable "sex will follow" of today's non-scripts.

    The BTS reveals an astounding fact: Monique was literally a last-minute replacement when contract star Mercedez became ill and could not play the lead role. Kudos to Vivid and PT for going ahead with a large-scale project (shooting ran for 8 to 16 days, depending on who's telling) without a bankable superstar in the cast, all to the better for the finished product. Also, Liza Harper is a revelation - a role that in a mainstream movie would have made her an instant star, though in this case the veteran French actress's career went nowhere after "To Die For" was released.