by RICHARD WINTERS
Terry Lambert (Steve Guttenberg) is having an affair with Sylvia (Isabelle Huppert), the wife of his boss. The two go back to his apartment one night after an office party to have sex. In the middle of the night Terry gets up to go to the bathroom and this is when Sylvia is awakened by a scream coming from outside the bedroom window. She goes to the window and sees a young woman struggling with a man on the sidewalk. When Sylvia opens the window the man runs away and by the time Terry gets there everyone is gone. The next day Terry reads in the paper about a similar murder of a woman that occurred later that night just a couple of blocks down the street. He is convinced there is a connection and that he should report the incident that Sylvia saw. In order to keep the affair a secret he decides to act as the witness and simply relay whatever Sylvia told him. However, in classic Hitchcockian style things quickly spiral out of control and Terry soon finds himself in deep trouble.
Overall, this film is highly entertaining from beginning to end and a terrific Hitchcock imitation that should please even his devotees. However, Guttenberg as the lead seemed, at least initially, to be a poor choice. He has always seemed very bland to me and has never shown any real type of strong onscreen presence. I could not buy into the idea that this guy would be cocky and shrewd enough to have sex with his boss’s wife right under his boss’s nose as Guttenberg seems to convey a very wide-eyed persona and looks like someone who is still in puberty and speaks in a high pitched voice. I did soften my stance on this as the story progressed simply because it would take an extraordinarily naïve person to get themselves into the mess that this character does and in that regard Guttenberg fits the bill perfectly.
His two female costars outshine him badly. Huppert is excellent as usual and may very well be one of the top five actresses alive today. I loved how her character starts out as kind and supportive, but eventually devolves into being cold and conniving. Huppert of course pulls this off almost effortlessly. Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Denise the waitress that Sylvia sees getting attacked, does a fine job as well. As Terry gets more involved with the case the two start to hook-up and end up making, dare I say, a cute couple. I did not like McGovern’s overly heavy Eastern accent that sounded too Bostonian to me even though the story takes place in Baltimore.
Bald, eccentric character actor Wallace Shawn, best known for his roles in My Dinner with Andre and Vanya on 42nd Street is terrific as the defense attorney. His clever cross-examining of Terry during the courtroom scene is a classic.
Curtis Hanson’s direction and script is what really makes this thing gel. The story is based on a novel by Anne Holden and it manages to stay plausible and believable throughout. The direction is compact without the unnecessary flamboyance that can sometimes take away from the action. The pacing is good as it grabs you right away and holds you throughout without any slow spots. The twists are well plotted and for the most part surprising. I also thought his recreating of a bar atmosphere at both the trendy nightclub and later at a small neighborhood pub was right on target. I liked that the story took place in Baltimore because outside of John Waters that seems to be a forgotten city in most movies. Hanson uses this setting to make some nice directorial touches like having a bar called The Nevermore with a mural of Edgar Allen Poe and there is even shot of a birthday cake with icing made to look like a raven.
Kevin Williamson is set to do a remake of this film and I will be intrigued to see it. Not that this version was bad because it certainly wasn’t, but a bigger budget and a better male lead could help improve what is already a sound plot.
My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars