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MOVIE REVIEW : A 'Night' of Mystery, Murder and Passion : The thriller starring Bruce Willis and Jane March is overloaded with twists both preposterous and obvious.

August 19, 1994|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

It is sad, truly sad, to have to report that "Color of Night" is a disappointment in almost every respect.

Richard Rush, its director, is not only warmly remembered for having made "The Stunt Man," one of the most original American films of the past 20 years, but that 1980 success was followed by the kind of miserable luck that never seems to afflict the untalented.

For a variety of reasons, Rush has not had a film to call his own from that time to this. And while he was embroiled with "Night's" producer over final cut of this film, the director had to be hospitalized with a heart attack.

"Night's" star, Bruce Willis, has certainly proved his ability to please audiences when he's right for a project. But though Willis is in earnest about his role here, the idea of using him as a troubled and introspective New York psychiatrist is in its own way as dubious a piece of casting as was having Al Pacino play a sophisticated international Grand Prix driver in "Bobby Deerfield."

The same is true for Jane March, hardly a veteran actress but one who displayed an effective erotic presence in "The Lover." Her role as the mysterious romantic temptress in "Night" is so convoluted as to be just about unplayable, and it is no fun to see March drown in a storm not of her own making.

As for writers Matthew Chapman (credited with such previous illogical features as "Strangers Kiss" and "Consenting Adults") and Billy Ray, they have turned out a tepid pastiche that refers to so many Hitchcock films it's easy to lose count. Perhaps they should put their VCRs in the closet for a while.

The result of the collaboration between all these parties is an unconvincing movie that is simultaneously predictable and far-fetched, not a fortunate combination. Very little makes any kind of sense here, and very few people will care.

*

Willis plays Dr. Bill Capa, a Manhattan psychoanalyst, one of whose patients opts out of therapy in a rather violent and disturbing way. Though he knows you can't hide from your troubles, Dr. Bill decides to take a break and visit an old college pal and fellow mental-help professional Bob Moore (Scott Bakula) out in sunny Los Angeles.

The city may be sunny, but the therapy group Moore runs, which Dr. Bill sits in on, is not. Included among its members are an oversexed divorcee, a spoiled, rich-kid artist, an obsessive compulsive lawyer, a sexually confused teen-ager and a surly man wracked with unspecific guilt. It has a kind of over-the-top giddiness usually associated with skits on "Saturday Night Live."

But when Moore gets murdered, and a quirky police investigator (Ruben Blades) thinks someone in the group did it, both the sessions and the movie attempt to get more serious. Because of his way with phrases such as "Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?," Dr. Bill is asked to take over the group, and when he's not helping those fragile egos he's trying to solve his friend's murder.

As if there wasn't enough on his plate, Dr. Bill quite literally has a run-in with the mysterious Rose (Jane March) when her car clumsily bangs into his. Fascinated by her perky charm and the way she has of running out the door without leaving so much as a phone number after exhausting bouts of torrid sex, Dr. Bill wonders if this could be love.

Though Rush's trademark bemusement--his fascination with what is reality and what isn't--should in theory add another level to a conventional thriller, in practice its presence turns out to be a distraction, diluting what impact the film's menace can manage.

More troublesome is that darned script, which gets increasingly overloaded with twists both preposterous and obvious. By the time the solution dawns on Dr. Bill and the light of understanding bathes his face, everyone else in the theater (if there is anyone else in the theater) will have already figured it out.

* MPAA rating: R for "strong sexuality, violence and language." Times guidelines: It includes a graphic murder and suicide and scenes of fairly explicit lovemaking.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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