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Movie Reviews : 'Midnight Crossing' Founders but in Daring Style

May 18, 1988|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

"Midnight Crossing" (citywide) is such an overheated, swank movie that at times it resembles a coffee-table version of a Sidney Sheldon story: murderous soap opera splashed with Schweppes, lime and plot twists.

In many ways, it's a bad movie--but an interestingly bad one. Writer-director Roger Holzberg has obvious talent, and he hasn't failed in the usual empty, cynical ways. He's failed more daringly. Instead of copying the latest gore-drenched slasher thriller, his material suggests something that Nicolas Roeg, Rene Clement or Roman Polanski might try. It's about the buried secrets and pathologies that lie under a carefully composed bourgeois surface.

Holzberg's unbuttoned melodrama shows two initially attractive couples on a pleasure cruise-turned-treasure hunt. One couple, the Shubbs, are young, sexually excitable and quarrelsome (John Laughlin and Kim Cattrall). The other, the Bartons, are older, a naval officer-turned-insurance salesman (Daniel Travanti) and his glaucoma-stricken wife (Faye Dunaway). As they get closer to the treasure, the sun drops, dark winds and squalls descend, and greed and lust overwhelm them. The cruise becomes a nightmare of suspicion, murder and betrayal.

In the film, Travanti's Barton, who initially seems milky-nice and overly solicitous, turns into a monster of treachery and evil. The younger couple's problems deepen, and, in a typical irony, Dunaway's blind wife sees the truth more than any of them.

Obviously, the script, by Holzberg and Doug Weiser, is lurid and contrived. And some of the performances seem miscalculated--Travanti's explosions of villainy, Ned Beatty's Robert Shaw-like turn as a crusty old British salt.

But "Midnight Crossing" (MPAA-rated: R, for sex, language, nudity, violence) takes chances. There's something about its willingness to shove the subject past reasonable bounds--right into the blackest depths of character degeneration and emotional hysteria--that almost commands respect. It suggests Holzberg may make interesting movies in the future.

He'll have a better chance if he keeps working with cinematographer Henry Vargas, whose sun-swept, acrobatic camera work--of the white yacht and the crisp blue ocean--shows flashes of brilliance. One more irony here: The camera dotingly savors the same chi-chi world of surfaces that the story tries to expose and undermine.

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