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Movie Review : Exploring The Depths In 'Positive I.d.'

October 27, 1987|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

"Positive I.D." (selected theaters) is a non-exploitive little psychological thriller springing off from two basic premises. It's an attack on the emotional carnage wreaked on a rape victim in a typical middle-class community and it's also an investigation into split identities--and the ways a fraudulent personality can be manufactured in our computerized culture.

It's not quite successful on either level. Written, produced and directed by Andy Anderson, the movie suffers from a schematic plot line and generally lugubrious, overemphatic performances; some of the cast sound as if they're giving personal testimonies at a born-again banker's convention. But as an example of what an independent film maker can accomplish outside the system, it may be a model.

In the story, suburban rape victim Julie Kenner (Stephanie Rascoe), gripped by depression and revulsion for a year after her assault, is transformed and energized when she discovers that people can create new identities for themselves by manipulating the public records systems. She uses birth certificates of deceased people and obtains identification, credentials and even credit. Anderson shows this glitch in exhaustive and mostly plausible detail.

In Julie's case, she invents an alternate personality, Bobbi King, a sleek, heavily mascaraed sexpot who prowls the seedier Fort Worth dives while manifesting all the chutzpah and spirit that the victim--Julie--lacks. As Bobbi explores the lower depths, Julie's home life disintegrates. Her overly nice husband (John Davies) is entrapped by Dana, the vamp next door (Laura Lane). The ultimate result of this double life remains a plot-bomb waiting to explode.

"Positive I.D." is less interested in jolting our adrenaline than in piquing our intellect. But it isn't completely immune from prejudices or mass-market formulas. Anderson, a film teacher and independent film maker at the University of Texas, probably feels he has to sugarcoat his ideas with a thriller format to put them across. He tends to push his satiric points about middle-class society and modern anonymity too hard and too solemnly, and you get puzzled by minor points. Rape victims today are certainly treated shabbily--often by the system itself and often by overly zealous lawyers--but Julie's treatment verges on the lunatic. Her neighbors ask whether she liked it, and passing strangers scream obscene insults at her.

Actually, "Positive I.D" (MPAA-rated: R for nudity, sex and language) might have been a more satisfying movie if it had been stripped of all its thriller conventions and offered simply as the story of a shattered woman developing an alternate identity to escape her debilitating milieu.

As it is, despite austere camera work by Paul Barton, good work by Rascoe--and a fine performance by Steve Fromholz as her bartender-protector--the movie is erratic. It's least interesting when pushing its polemics or delving into high melodramatics; most absorbing when it suggests a kind of Fort Worth "Belle de Jour".

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