Final Analysis

Fresh-from-the-salon mental patient looks
★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1992
Director: 
Phil Joanou
Starring: 
Richard Gere, Kim Basinger, Uma Thurman, Eric Roberts
The Setup: 
A psychologist, a femme fatale, a murder.
Discussion: 

I had seen this in the theater when it was out, and a few times on video, thinking it "pretty good" at the time, so when a reader wrote to ask if I had seen it, I thought it was certainly something I could sit through again. The reader didn't say WHY they wondered if I had seen it, but I suspect it's because of the movie's hinging on Freudian psychology--or at least a superficial version of it. This time around it seemed a lot more trashy, and lodged firmly in the early 90s spate of erotic courtroom thrillers, but it was still quite trashy and fun.

The DVD I got didn't have so much as a menu, and wasn't even letterboxed, speaking to the low regard this film has achieved over the years. We go right into the credits, which has a lighthouse motif where different images are revealed by the turning light, such as the setting of San Francisco, flowers, and growing more violent to reveal guns, fire and explosions. This was directed by Phil Joanou, who also did U2: Rattle and Hum, and was written by Wesley Strick, of Scorsese's Cape Fear remake.

We then see Uma Thurman as Diane on her analyst's couch, saying she had a dream again in which she is arranging flowers. Richard Gere is her therapist, Isaac Barr, mouthing such therapy-isms as "How does that make you feel?" and the like. Diane says that he should really meet with her sister, Heather, because Heather can give him some crucial insight into her case. She then suggests that no, he should REALLY meet Heather. Then Isaac is off to court, where he testifies as an expert witness in the case of Pepe Carerro, his testimony instrumental in getting Pepe excused on the basis of temporary insanity. We also meet annoyed detective Huggins, played by Keith David, where we learn that Isaac has a reputation of getting criminals off on the basis of temporary insanity, which is not appreciated by law enforcement.

Heather comes by Isaac's office late at night, in the form of Kim Basinger, accompanied by her typical huge hair. She doesn't have much of interest to offer. Then Isaac has drinks with his friend Mike, whose head is rocking the sad comb-forward. Mike suggests that Isaac has to get him a lady love, but Isaac says that after so long of looking into people's minds, he has grown accustomed to what he has found there, and is no longer surprised by anything. "I just want to be surprised," he says. If this sounds like famous last words, you just might be right.

When he gets home, turns out Heather has been waiting for him in the pouring rain, which has been unable to penetrate her rigid locks, leaving her with a gently-misted look (above). I mean, we can't have Kim Basinger looking BAD, can we? Please refer to The Getaway when discussing Ms. Basinger's hair and its imperviousness to the elements or garbage disposals. He invites her in, they discuss Diane a tiny bit more, then run off to a romantic dinner. Is this proper behavior for a psychologist? Not really, but most psychologists don't face Kim Basinger. Isaac is getting all romantic, when Heather tells him she is married. So it looks like it's all off, but when he returns home she says "So this is it?" Well, you DID just say you're married, right? They say goodnight, then the next thing we know they're in bed together.

Heather then returns home to her husband, Eric Roberts, doing his post-Star 80 routine as the scary dominating husband. He makes Heather strip and come to him, which she clearly feels debased by. By now you have surely noticed that seemingly a quarter of the dialogue here is whispered, causing you to have to constantly ride your volume button, or simply miss a great deal of what is being said. In retrospect, you're probably safe missing it. Then Heather goes out to a swank dinner with her husband, who treats her like a child. She is not allowed to have a drink, because of "what happens." We soon see her defiantly gulp down wine, then throw a massive public fit! You see, Heather suffers from "pathological intoxication," which means that all she has to do is take a sip and then she FREAKS.

She and Isaac continue their romance, and go to this lighthouse underneath the Golden Gate bridge. We note several elements which JUST MIGHT come to bear later, such as a ditch in the dirt road, and the verging-on-collapse upper balcony of the lighthouse. This unattended lighthouse and rickety deathtrap is just open to the public, by the way. While in here Heather drops her purse, and out comes the steel bar of a dumbbell, which Isaac picks up and wonders at. She says it is for self-defense, although gee, it is a rather odd choice and ineffective weapon, but no matter. Isaac has his minions look into the past of Heather's husband, and finds out that he is a real violent criminal thug. Periodically, by the way, we have returned to therapy with Diane, who never fails to say she has had the dream about arranging flowers again.

SPOILERS > > >
Heather and husband are having another swank dinner when Isaac shows up, just to get a look at this guy. He and the husband share a menacing moment, then Isaac ends up driving Heather home, dropping by the drugstore to pick up some cold medicine on the way. Heather gets home and gulps down cough medicine like a thrill-seeking teen, then, when hubby is being menacing again, she decks him with the dumbbell! He ends up in the nearby whirlpool and dies. Then for a while this turns into a courtroom drama with Isaac's comb-forward friend serving as Heather's lawyer, and Isaac as her expert witness. After a lot of courtroom theatrics, Heather is acquitted on a basis of temporary insanity, and sent to a mental institution.

Isaac then attends a lecture, snapping to attention when he hears that the old flower-arranging dream is straight out of Freud's writings. He also learns that Heather has been in the audience of a great deal of his court cases. He realizes that he's been had, and goes to see Heather at the mental hospital in the dead of night. Below you will see how Heather's hair looks in the dead of night, woken from sleep, at the MENTAL HOSPITAL. Maybe California mental hospitals have round-the-clocks salons? Hair consultants on 24/7 call? Who's to say? Anyway, she tells him pretty clearly that he'd better not fuck with her, because she has the barbell with his fingerprints all over it, and any time she wants to she can finger HIM as the actual killer. I have to say this was a pretty good reversal, and you know what, I LIKE this girl. She's got spunk.

As if on cue, Detective Huggins is right outside, and tells Isaac he thinks HE did it, and all he needs is the murder weapon. Well when it rains, it pours, right? So Isaac puts his thinking cap on, and tells Heather he has arranged for guys from the DA's office to come in and hear her testimony. In the meantime we have seen Diane go retrieve the fatal dumbbell, wrapped in plastic to preserve the fingerprints, from a safety deposit box. Heather tells the guys her story, that Isaac killed her husband and she covered for him, while the two listeners give each other significant looks. It gets a little funny; Heather says something, shot of them giving each other a significant look, Heather says something more, shot of them.... If you've seen Double Indemnity, a movie that this is obviously a descendant of, you might suspect that these people are not DAs at all, and there's a bit of a switcheroo that will screw Heather at her own game, and, well, you'd be right. The whole thing ends with Isaac saying a significant line to Heather, only I have no idea what it was, regardless of how much I raised my volume, since Phil Joanou thought it would be totally awesome if a quarter of the dialogue in his movie was inaudible. Super decision, Phil! You're a real smart guy.

Then Isaac invites Diane to a romantic breakfast, only to essentially tell her that they can never have an affair--he's done with inappropriate affairs now, I mean like, TODAY--but Thanks So Much for turning on your sister and procuring evidence for me. No really--THANKS! We can see that Diane has gotten big wavy blonde extensions to make her look like Heather, since that's what Isaac likes and she's expecting an affair. Anyway, she storms out without even touching her champagne cocktail. It's one of those movie meals in which they meet in a restaurant JUST to storm out 3 minutes later without ordering anything. I think restaurants have a right not to seat such parties.

Diane goes straight to see Heather, feeling all betrayed, and Heather has an idea--they'll switch places and Heather will go free to do her murderous work. Well, isn't it JUST such a coincidence that Diane got extensions to look exactly like Heather just 30 seconds before! I swear, things sure do have a funny way of working out sometimes. Heather goes to Diane's apartment to retrieve the dumbbell, and it turns out Isaac has called in a favor from Pepe, the guy he got released at the beginning. Pepe gets the dumbbell, takes it to a warehouse, where he is soon gunned down by Heather, now in classic Kim Basinger Ray-Bans (Did she contractually stipulate that she has to look exactly the same in every movie? And also--it's just a sad relic that people thought this whole look was hot at the time, the old straw hair and all). Heather does deliver a spirited "Wrong girl, pal," before gunning Pepe down in cold blood, and you kind of have to wish the whole movie had her being sassy like this. She goes to meet the detective, who just HAPPENS to be right out by the previously-established lighthouse! This was back in the 90s, remember, when every erotic thriller HAD to end up on some rickety tower or precipice.

There's a whole bit with an ambulance I'm not even going to go into, but Isaac rushes to Heather and grabs the dumbbell--tainting the evidence with his new fingerprints--just before she can hand it to the detective. It's a good moment--until you realize that in order for it to work she had to take it out of the plastic bag meant specifically to preserve the fingerprints, something she never would have done. But whatever. Then she's got a gun, and demands that they repair to a more climax-friendly location. Then, hey remember that ditch? And remember how I told you the lighthouse balcony was falling off? They both come back, as we knew they would. Heather ends up in a watery grave, and Isaac barely survives, without too much help from the detective ("I said, go to the window, dumbass! NOW!"). There's a last coda where it seems like Diane might now be plotting a new life as a murderess, and that's it.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was amusing enough, as such things go. I'd much rather watch this than Basic Instinct, for example, because this has the layer of psychology, and also quite smartly keeps getting more and more pulpy and lurid. I've come to appreciate movies that smartly and naturally have a structure that lends itself to rising action, and this one has a pretty straightforward first half--I mean, we know there are twists coming, but we're not sure what they are--then after a certain twist the second half goes a bit off the wall in a delightfully loopy way. Personally, I think it should have maintained a bit more of a sense of humor throughout, but by the end it is throwing itself at pulpy thrills with appreciable gusto.

Other that that, eh, not that much to say. Gere does his typical thing, Basinger is totally within her zone (but is still somewhat trashy fun). Thurman brings a little life to her tiny role, using little gestures and looks to let us know that she resents her overbearing sister, even as she is submissive to her. Keith David is amusing as the detective, but during the scene where he meets Isaac outside the mental institution / spa in the dead of night, he is making so many crazy facial expressions all within just a few minutes I came close to declaring him the best thing about the movie. But he's not nearly as fun in the rest of the movie. Who knows, maybe Joanou was on vacation that day. And that's kind of the main thing... it is just directed with a straightforward, humorless, attempt-at-quality tone, when it could and should have been much more nimble and ironic. I don't think anyone told Joanou just how ridiculous all of this is.

Should you watch it: 

If you like a cheesy pulpy erotic thriller like they used to make in the early 90s.