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'Inside Out': Tragedy Of Agoraphobia

October 14, 1987|LEONARD KLADY

Jimmy Morgan (Elliott Gould) believes in letting his fingers do the walking. Entrenched in a complete creature-comfort apartment off of Manhattan's Central Park, he exists in the womb-like security of his surroundings, allowing only what he wants inside. It's a 24-karat solid-gold prison.

"Inside Out" (AMC Century 14, Beverly Center, Monica 4-Plex) offers up the most astute, intense vision of the horror of agoraphobia imaginable. Unsparing, relentless and teetering on the tragic, Jimmy's life is anything but the cozy environment he presents to the world. But the true horror is his refusal to recognize his condition and the pathological methods he's developed to alienate the few people who might be able to coax him out of the shell.

His housekeeper observes that he simply can't do anything right. We intuit that he's been left a sizable inheritance, which continues to be his prime source of income. However, Jimmy gave up on a business life. He also failed at marriage and has become a gambling addict--his bookie is only a phone call away. It's the complete picture of someone with a highly refined sense of self-loathing.

The oxymoronic title suggests a rich irony that is largely realized in Robert Taicher's direction and script (co-written by Kevin Bartelme). There are more than the obvious insides and outsides to explore. The perfect little environment of the apartment doesn't quite fit with the anything-but-ordered mind of its tenant. In fact, the slightest psychological tremor brings everything falling down like a house of cards.

Dramatically, the most pressing matter is finding a reason for Jimmy to make the jump and walk into the world beyond his door. It isn't prompted by the arrival of an old friend or the pleas of his adolescent daughter. The catalyst is the news that his father's partner may be skimming off Jimmy's end of the business for his personal benefit. While it's only a threat, we're suddenly thrust into "Mr. Inside's" mind, wondering whether we can turn the knob before it's too late.

At the core of this paranoid dilemma is a truly riveting performance by Gould. It is unquestionably the most demanding and accomplished work from him in too long a time. On paper there's nothing particularly noble or redeeming about the character, but Gould realizes his frailties in honest terms, allowing Jimmy to be accessible and sympathetic.

The supporting cast largely has the thankless task of fleshing out the plot. Gould's true co-stars are cinematographer Jack Wallner and art director Jack Wright who capture both the comfort and claustrophobia of the environment.

"Inside Out" (MPAA-rated: R, for language and brief nudity) falters primarily because it waits too long to motivate Jimmy. It's a flaw not of direction but our shared frustration with the character. Taicher speaks with the veracity of one who knows the subject intimately and has taken the opportunity to present it without flinching.

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