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MOVIE REVIEW

Dahl's 'Unforgettable' Stretches the Imagination

February 23, 1996|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Unforgettable" is an unfortunate title, for this over-the-top techno-thriller is likely to become one of director John Dahl's least memorable movies.

The problem is that Bill Geddie's script has a way-out gimmick: memory transfer via serum injection. Instead of allowing us to absorb this stretch of the imagination by following it up with entirely plausible events, it piles on one preposterous development after another.

Because the script also allows for little of the dark humor Dahl handled so well in his zesty film noir trilogy, "Kill Me Again," "Red Rock West" and "The Last Seduction," it increasingly invites unintended laughter as credibility goes out the window. Yet serving up this story with truly wicked humor surely was the only way to get away with it.

In playing this material straight, however, both Dahl and his star, Ray Liotta, could not have done a better job with it, considering its pitfalls. Dahl brings high energy and style and manages to pull off a suspenseful climax, even though the film is overly long. Liotta, who exudes danger as well as intelligence, is ideally cast as a man desperate to clear his name after having been found not guilty of murdering his wife on a technicality.

A Seattle medical examiner, Liotta is the one man who pays attention to neurobiologist Linda Fiorentino's dry, highly technical speech involving her discovery that deeply engraved memories are stored in cerebral spinal fluid. She has developed a formula that makes their retrieval possible--even from the dead.

Nevermind that she predicts it will take at least seven years before she'll be able to move on from experimenting on mice to humans, for Liotta is a man in a hurry. In no time he's experiencing his late wife's death throes in an attempt to identify his wife's actual killer. From this moment on, plot twists and turns come thick and fast.

In a role that is the complete opposite of her ultimate femme fatale in "The Last Seduction," Fiorentino underplays to Liotta's ferocious intensity. Eventually, though, her neurobiologist dwindles away to nothing more than a standard lady-in-distress.

The supporting cast is top-drawer (as are all the film's technical credits): David Paymer as Liotta's sympathetic colleague, Peter Coyote and Christopher McDonald as very different cops, and Kim Cattrall as Liotta's embittered sister-in-law, who never for a second doubts that Liotta murdered her sister. Lots of talented people worked hard to make "Unforgettable" work, but it just doesn't make it.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong language, violence and nudity. Times guidelines: The film also depicts small children experiencing the loss of their mother to a brutal murder.

'Unforgettable'

Ray Liotta: David Krane

Linda Fiorentino: Martha Briggs

David Paymer: Curtis Avery

Peter Coyote: Don Bresler

Christopher McDonald: Stewart Gleick

An MGM release of a Dino De Laurentiis presentation. Director John Dahl. Producers Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis. Executive producers Andrew Lazar, Rick Dahl, William Teitler. Screenplay by Bill Geddie. Cinematographer Jeffrey Jur. Editors Eric L. Beason, Scott Chestnut. Costumes Terry Dresbach, Glenne Campbell. Music Christopher Young. Production designer Rob Pearson. Art director Doug Byggdin. Set decorator Elizabeth Wilcox. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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