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Movie Reviews : 'April Fool's Day' Fools Itself

March 28, 1986|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Move over Brian De Palma. Make room, Mr. Hitchcock. Wes Craven, get outta town. Have we got a scary movie for you! Not since the halcyon days of "Nosferatu" and "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde" has there been a thriller with such class, such elan, such a suave, sophisticated wit. If only they could have held over the Academy Awards a few more days.

Tee-hee . . . April Fool!

Should it sound as if we're joshing around a bit, it's only because "April Fool's Day" (citywide) doesn't take itself all that seriously, either. A spiffy new comic-horror picture, it lends a bundle of new twists to the "let's scare the dim-witted college kids" genre, a cobwebby formula that's been so thoroughly mined in recent years that you could probably film most of the storyline with a paint-by-numbers kit.

The problem with "April Fool's Day" is that it has a few too many twists. It's a movie that outsmarts itself. We can't give away the finale (our Critics' Conscience Handbook forbids it), but suffice to say that many moviegoers will feel miserably cheated by the strange goings-on at the end.

The story revolves around Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman) and a crowd of freshly scrubbed college pals who gather for an April Fool's weekend at her parent's secluded island estate. We quickly sense something amiss about Muffy (especially when she starts wandering around in nurse's shoes with crepe soles). Before too long, her chums find themselves in grave peril.

Director Fred Walton, who did "When a Stranger Calls," has an ingenious eye for detail and impeccable timing. In a film fraught with tricks 'n' treats, he consistently finds imaginative ways to stage each new gag, even craftily milking a hokey, exploding-cigar routine far beyond its normal life span. (The film's lighting is also delightfully inventive, especially the gauzy, eerily illuminated look of Muffy's sprawling manor.)

The likable young cast also comes off well, particularly Thomas F. Wilson as the impish Arch, Deborah Goodrich as the sex-kittenish Nikki, Jay Baker as a Southern-drawling preppie named Hal and Foreman, who gives Muffy the pixilated air of a daft young witch.

Unfortunately, the film blunders into such an outlandishly dumb conclusion that you don't get a charge of surprise--just a bad case of whiplash. There may be some moviegoers who'll buy the maddeningly lame explanation at the end. As for us--anytime you have to tidy up after that much blood-letting, the crowd deserves a big bang, not a booby prize.

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