I think James M. Cain invented the genre with "The Postman Always Rings Twice," but there have been a bazillion variations over the years, including "Body Heat," the one that launched the last 20 years of late-night Cinemax "wicked lady" programmers, most of them starring Shannon Tweed.
They're actually the reverse image of the Lifetime movie-of-the-week. In a Lifetime movie, any handsome actor who appears to be a woman's dream come true ends up being a deviant killer who's using her for his own secret ends.
In an erotic thriller, any beautiful actress who appears to have love in her heart for a less than perfect man ends up being a cold-hearted golddigger harboring a dagger.
The great thing about "Second To Die," an overlooked thriller starring former "Baywatch" babe Erika Eleniak, is that it combines the Lifetime movie with the Cinemax erotic thriller, so that you're never quite sure who's playing whom until the final two scenes.
Unfortunately, it doesn't really deliver in the cheesecake department. Erika apparently has one of those "no bare bod" contracts, forcing the producers to throw in a distracting framing story starring Kimberly Rowe as the younger sister who discovers Erika's diary after getting news of her death. Kimberly is more than happy to spring those babies out of the chute as part of her subplot about whether to run away to New York with her lame starving-artist boyfriend.
We first see Erika, though, as the neglected wife of a workaholic demolitions expert (!), spending her days taking care of a whiny stepdaughter confined to a wheelchair and her nights trying to coax the hubby out of his garage workshop, where he diddles around with plastic explosives.
When she's stood up by the husband (for the umpteenth time) for a tennis date, the husband's sleazy attorney shows up instead, and a little while later they end up making the sign of the Triple-Jointed Manatee while discussing the legal intricacies of pre-nuptial agreements and life insurance polices.
Since the nosy neighbor keeps coming over with self-help books -- "How To Build a Bomb" -- so that Erika and her mate will "have something to talk about," it's only a matter of time until she says "I want him dead." A little homemade plastic explosive in his lunchbox, a cell-phone-activated fuse, and pretty soon you've got Piper Cub debris all over Catalina Island.
Unfortunately, neither the wife nor the attorney read the fine print in the policy. He had a "second to die" policy, meaning it only pays off after both husband and wife are deceased. But by that time, she's already married the attorney in a quickie Vegas wedding, so it's necessary to proceed to more Extreme Measures.
I've only got two more words for you: "The Sting."
Fortunately we have Paul Winfield as the aging but wily old police detective who figures everything out before it's too late. And I can't really say anything else or it will spoil it, so let's take a look at those drive-in totals:
Two dead bodies. (Sort of.) Two breasts. A little slow. Plot holes you could drive a Mack Truck through. Multiple aardvarking. Amateur bombmaking. Exploding airplane. Jealous-rage husband-slapping. One shootout. Thermos Fu.
Drive-In Academy Award nominations for Jackie O'Brien, as the besotted chain-smoking trailer-trash mom; Brooke Davis, as the drooling wheelchair-bound whine-o-rama champion; Erika Eleniak, as the golddigging heroine who gets tired of wheelchair duty and says "there are places for people like Nicki"; John Wesley Shipp, as the layabout domineering demolitions-expert husband who calls his wife "a frozen fish"; Colleen Camp, almost unrecognizable from her early-80s cheerleader-movie roles, as the nosy neighbor; Jerry Kroll, as the scuzzy attorney who plays piano in a lounge and says "Does Jim know how unhappy you are?"; Kimberly Rowe, as the oversexed younger sister who says "A woman likes a man who listens to her"; Paul Winfield as the determined detective who says "My gut tells me you're in serious danger" (and it's quite a gut); George Morgan, who wrote the script from his play; and Sean Marlowe, the director, for doing things the drive-in way.
Three stars. Joe Bob says check it out.
"Second To Die" Web site:nevadabelle.com/pages/film_secondtodie.html.
(To reach Joe Bob, go to www.joebobbriggs.com or email him at JoeBob@upi.com. Snail-mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)