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MOVIE REVIEW : Dark Comedy Too Grim to Be Funny

November 16, 1990|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Disturbed" (at selected theaters) opens with a sequence from which it can never hope to recover. We watch a woman in a mental institution being prepared for a rape by its administrator, who drugs her and straps her down. Later she commits suicide, jumping off the roof of the secluded asylum on visiting day and before the eyes of her horrified husband and small daughter.

This is all too grimly literal for a film that writer-director Charles Winkler and co-writer Emerson Bixby mean to be a dark comedy, a send-up of the insane-asylum genre where the chief doctor always turns out to be crazier than his patients. Not helping matters is that there have at this point been so many mental-institution movies, serious and otherwise, that it would take filmmakers far more experienced than Winkler and Bixby to make such a movie seem fresh and original. Competent craftsmanship, which Winkler possesses, is just not enough here.

Not all the manic zaniness of Malcolm McDowell in full-throttle as the crazed psychiatrist can obliterate the brutal negative impact of the initial scenes. McDowell, who might have been fun had the circumstances been more inspired, throws himself into the campy spirit of the occasion, and so do Geoffrey Lewis as a longtime inmate who's become more a pal than a patient of McDowell and Priscilla Pointer as the severe, repressed head nurse. "Disturbed" (rated R for violence) is disturbing in a way never intended.

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