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MOVIE REVIEWS : 'Whispers in the Dark': More Like Plotlines in the Dark

August 07, 1992|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When a thriller is really working--when the clues fall into place the precise millisecond they are supposed to, and all the red herrings are finally fileted--it can tantalize us like no other type of movie. But when the seams show and the clues plunk into place with metronomic regularity, the whole thriller enterprise can seem like an empty exercise. The chief fatality is not the corpse up on the screen but our own precious time.

"Whispers in the Dark" (citywide) isn't an incompetent thriller, exactly, but there's so little going on beyond the rudimentary working out of the inevitable twists and turns that it may be less exciting than those thrillers that are messes. It's a textbook thriller, and since when is reading a textbook any fun?

Annabella Sciorra plays Ann Hecker, a New York psychiatrist with a--shall we say--odd patient roster. Johnny C (John Leguizamo) is a Latino artist who likes to paint portraits of trussed-up and tortured women. Eve (Deborah Unger), another patient, entertains Ann with gaudy S&M fantasies involving a (possibly) fictitious lover. In a scene that would give even Freud the hives, she begins to undress and masturbate. (The R rating is for strong sexuality, violence and language.)

Eve's carryings-on have a torrid effect on Ann, who recently separated from her boyfriend. Enter Doug (Jamey Sheridan), a pilot and a folksy, man's man kind of guy. He reminds Ann of her own pilot father--remember, this is a \o7 psychological\f7 thriller! They discover they're both from the Midwest (i.e. down deep they're untainted by all that New York urban grunge). She takes him to his first concert at Carnegie Hall (string quartets no doubt).

Doug is so Too Good to Be True that, when the inevitable murder makes its scheduled stop, you can sniff red herring a mile away. But then this movie has so many of them--including a hot-footed cop played by Anthony LaPaglia and a psychiatrist friend of Ann's played by Alan Alda--that you practically need a trawler to get through it.

It might be fun to make a thriller about a psychiatrist who was so turned on by her patient's sexual fantasies that the steaminess heated up her own life. But Ann is such a dull, passive reactor that you can't figure out what writer-director Christopher Crowe has in mind. Are we supposed to feel protective? Since Ann uses virtually none of her psychiatric expertise to root out the mystery, Crowe's point seems to be that psychiatrists are dunderheads when it comes to tapping the true sources of madness. (For a similar shrink bashing, witness also "Final Analysis," that Richard Gere-Kim Basinger clinker of recent note.) When the mystery is finally resolved, instead of "The End" looming up on the screen, it ought to say, "So what?"

'Whispers in the Dark'

Annabella Sciorra: Ann Hecker

Jamey Sheridan: Doug McDowell

Anthony LaPaglia: Morgenstern

Jill Clayburgh: Sarah Green

A Paramount release of a Martin Bregman production. Director Christopher Crowe. Producer Martin Bregman, Michael S. Bregman. Executive producers Eric Freiser, Richard Gittelson, William Link, Andrew Deane. Screenplay by Christopher Crowe. Cinematographer Michael Chapman. Editor Bill Pankow. Costumes John Dunn. Music Thomas Newman. Production design John Jay Moore. Set decorator Justin Scoppa Jr. Sound Allan Byer. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (strong sexuality and violence, and for language.)

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