Saturday, April 5, 2014

Malice


PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Madame Rose, my publicist, promised that there would be a band and floral tributes waiting when the Norwegian Star returned to its dock, marking the end of my comeback concert voyage. I had expected a little bit more than Lester Lewis's Kazoo Korale and the bouquet of wilted nasturtiums thrown at me by some demented four year old, but alas, that was all that was waiting for me at the foot of the Aloha Tower in Honolulu. There wasn't even a porter to help with all thirty-seven pieces of my Louis Vuitton - I shall really have to speak to my management. Anyway, I did eventually make it to the airport for a flight back to Hollywood and Chateau Maine.

After arriving home, I slept for two days and then began to take stock of my life. While I feel back on track and more ready to entertain than ever, the bookings have simply dried up during my rehab absence and my professional calendar is shockingly empty. In addition, my other retail endeavors such as GlamourPuss gowns, VickiWear and Lesterene brand cosmetics are all in a retail slump as I have fallen from the public eye. I called Joseph, my manager, looking for inspiration. He was at a loss so I retired pondering that immortal question "What would Brian Boitano do?" and then it hit me - an ice skating spectacular. Vicki Lester is Aida on Ice. It's going to be stunning.

I announced the good news to a stunned management team and then retired to bed. As I was so excited, I was unable to sleep so I caught Malice on some late night cable channel. This 1993 film, starring Bill Pullman, Nicole Kidman and Alec Baldwin, is one of those neo-noir everyone doing everyone else dirty thrillers that have been popular of late. The young Aaron Sorkin, fresh off the success of A Few Good Men, wrote the screenplay and it was directed by veteran Harold Becker. Such an abundance of talent both in front, and behind, the camera, however, are not indicative of success and the film does no more than rise firmly to the middle of the B movie potboiler pack.

Bill Pullman plays Andy Safian, dean of students at a small college in a picturesque New England town. The type where the trees are always in early fall colors and the buildings are all red brick and white paint and there's nary a Wal-Mart to be seen. He has an adorable wife, Tracy, (Kidman) who likes to finger-paint with children and a Bob Vila renovation special house. Trouble is, someone is busy raping the co-eds on campus and Andy soon ends up a suspect, interrogated by the brusque police chief (a scene stealing Bebe Neuwirth). Meanwhile, a new gynecological surgeon comes to town (Baldwin) who turns out to be an old high school classmate of Andy's. Andy rents out the top floor of his house to the hard drinking, womanizing Dr. Hill over the objections of his wife. When Tracy develops gynecological complications during her pregnancy and Dr. Hill makes a mistake in the operating room, things get complicated and soon, Andy's world explodes around him as he starts to discover who has been up to what. Things eventually degenerate into stalking in old dark houses, scenes that were clich├ęs in the time of Lon Chaney.

The cast is game given the thin, and at times contradictory material they have to work with. Pullman, in the lead role, is his usual charming self. I think we're supposed to see him grown from reactor to actor through the course of the film, but the writing is so confused that he could have been playing two different characters, for all I could discern. Nicole Kidman tries hard to play the femme fatale. She wants to be Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity but only achieves Malibu Dream Barbie in a Material Girl music video. Only Alec Baldwin really has fun with his part. He knows he's making a programmer and plays his part fast and loose, having a good time with the ridiculous situations he's given. Bebe Neuwirth comes off the best of the bunch. Her part isn't large, but her Long Guy Land line readings are an absolute hoot. Veterans George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft appear in cameos. Scott seems to have been wheeled in from the ICU and dubbed. Bancroft is histrionic and over the top with her booze addled broad - imagine Mama Rose as Mary Tyrone crossed with Amanda Wingfield.

The faults of the film can all be firmly traced to the script. Sorkin, who is a better dramatist in the short form of television, is more interested in getting his intricate plot to work than he is at creating compelling characters or psychologically sound situations or actions. Unfortunately, his plot doesn't work either. It's an uneasy gelling of the campus serial rapist plot (which gets forgotten completely about two thirds of the way through the film) and the who's doing dirty to whom triangle of Pullman, Kidman and Baldwin. Not to mention that the entire plot revolves around the premise that Kidman (not the finest of thespian talents) has been able to keep up an act for years without a slip.

Director Becker, who has done better films (The Onion FieldSea of Love), tries to keep the jumble moving. He has some lovely lyrical moments and glosses over the holes in the script with aplomb, but is ultimately undermined by his characters all lacking in common sense or anything that seems to remotely resemble intelligence. Becker's career seems to be spiraling down into more and more depressing formula films (Mercury RisingDomestic Disturbance) of late. I suppose it pays the bills but it's a waste of his talent.

It's not a bad way to spend an hour and a half on an insomniac evening but I wouldn't go out of my way for it under any other circumstances.

Lyrical bicycle ride. Locker room threats. Drunken dart throwing. Shooting blanks. Gratuitous Peter Gallagher. Fall from balcony. Child in danger. Faux Degas statue.

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