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MOVIE REVIEW : Strong Cast, but Little Warmth in 'Out Cold'

March 03, 1989|SHEILA BENSON | Times Film Critic

To watch nifty actors try to breathe a little life into torpid, tacky material is bad enough. When, in the case of "Out Cold" (selected theaters), the talents squandered are those of John Lithgow, Teri Garr and Randy Quaid, it feels like a criminal offense.

"Out Cold" clearly sees itself as black comedy of the "Blood Simple" vein, when it's really only misfired situation comedy with a little dirt under its fingernails. From the stylishness of the titles comes a note of hope that this may be something promising--a photo collage it's telling us that Garr, Lithgow and his buddy, Bruce McGill, have been pals since high school, through the Army and back into civilian life; that Garr and McGill have married and that the men have opened a modest butcher shop together.

Alas, that's it for the charm. Picking them up a decade or more later, Lithgow is a wimp, McGill a bully and Garr a ditzy version of a James M. Cain dangerous dame. When McGill slaps her around, Garr hires Quaid, the lowest rent detective on the San Pedro docks, to document her husband's philandering. The inept Quaid gets something more; photos of what he thinks is a liaison, but is actually evidence of a murder, involving Lithgow, Garr and McGill, only one of them innocently.

A lot of the humor in the George Malko, Leonard Glasser script comes from the appearance and disappearance of the corpse, frozen--in the butcher shop locker--into a sort of permanent Highland fling. It's about this time you realize that this enterprise (rated R for language and grisly situations) has not a single character to care about. And also that, thanks to Malcolm Mowbray's flaccid direction, the corpse isn't the only one around to seem trapped forever.

Ah, but audiences can be out, in the twinkling of an eye, an escape you might devoutly wish for this cast. Incidentally, this is the second film to mix Quaid and raw meat of very dubious origin. If this is a trend, it should be nipped in the bud, now.

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