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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Ivy': Family Itchin' for Trouble

May 08, 1992|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In "Poison Ivy," (selected theaters), Drew Barrymore plays Ivy, a teen seductress with a Kewpie doll mouth, a strategically placed tattoo and heels. Using her carefully honed wiles, she infiltrates a wealthy, massively screwed-up L.A. family and throws everybody for a loop.

There are a lot things on this movie's mind. The problem is, there's isn't much of a mind. We're observing the latest variant on the "Hand That Rocks the Cradle" and "Stepfather" scenario in which a well-to-do family is disrupted by a depraved interloper. The difference here is that the family is already depraved.

The father, played by Tom Skerritt, is the general manager of a local TV station and a famous on-air current-events commentator. He's so straight-arrow that it's a cinch he's bent. His wife, played by Cheryl Ladd, spends most of her time in her plush satiny bed popping Percodan and breathing through an oxygen mask. She's a neurasthenic wreck who spends most of the movie doing an extended Camille act. (She might have made the perfect mate for the Dennis Hopper character in "Blue Velvet.") The couple's friendless daughter Cooper (Sara Gilbert) amuses herself by calling in bomb threats to her father's TV station. It's the Addams Family for deadheads.

The director and co-writer Katt Shea is far from untalented. She knows how to work up a stylish sense of dread, and a few of the scenes between Ivy and Cooper have an oddball grace. (The R rating is for strong language and violence.) They capture the edgy tentativeness of teen friendships, the way you can be totally enthralled by your new best friend at one moment and repelled the next. But Shea, and her co-writer and producer Andy Ruben, are after bigger game. They're trying to make Ivy into some kind of all-purpose embodiment of the family's every fantasy.

For the father, she's a Lolita who, in her finest moment, catches him without his toupee and tells him he looks better without it. For the mother, she's a sympathetic soul who fixes her oxygen mask and isn't afraid to breathe through it . Unlike the rest of the family, she's not afraid of Mom's cooties.

For Cooper, Ivy is like her own id gone wild. Ivy enacts her friend's repressed incest fantasies, and there's a trace of lesbianism too. None of this really works because Cooper is such a glum ragamuffin that she doesn't seem to have much of an inner life. What's to repress? And Barrymore's tarty teen act is so transparent that you wonder why this family, stupefied as it is, can't figure out what's going on.

We certainly can. "Poison Ivy" suffers from a basic dramatic hitch. We in the audience are so far ahead of the people on the screen that there are no surprises, just the inevitable sound of the inevitable shoe dropping.

'Poison Ivy'

Sara Gilbert: Cooper

Drew Barrymore: Ivy

Tom Skerritt: Darryl

Cheryl Ladd: Georgie

A New Line Cinema release. Director Katt Shea. Producer Andy Ruben. Executive producers Melissa Goddard and Peter Morgan. Screenplay by Katt Shea and Andy Ruben. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. Editor Gina Mittleman. Costumes Ellen Gross. Music Aaron Davies. Production design Virginia Lee. Art director Hayden Yates. Set decorator Michele Munoz. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (violence and language).

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