A turn-off psycho-sexual thriller, "Whispers in the Dark" grows steadily more absurd by the reel until literally stumbling into the ocean at its climax. Sneak-previewed Saturday in advance of next weekend's opening, this one seems a dubious bet for good word-of-mouth, although presence of Annabella Sciorra in a follow-up suspenser to her hit "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" might be promotable in the short run.

A turn-off psycho-sexual thriller, “Whispers in the Dark” grows steadily more absurd by the reel until literally stumbling into the ocean at its climax. Sneak-previewed Saturday in advance of next weekend’s opening, this one seems a dubious bet for good word-of-mouth, although presence of Annabella Sciorra in a follow-up suspenser to her hit “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” might be promotable in the short run.

Looking pale and vulnerable, Sciorra this time essays a meek Gotham shrink who begins getting turned on by the tales of bondage and great sex confided to her by patient Deborah Unger, a disturbing development she confesses to her professional mentor, Alan Alda.

Ending a relationship with b.f. Anthony Heald, Sciorra begins falling for straight-arrow pilot Jamey Sheridan, but then, in a major coincidence, discovers that Sheridan is the sex partner Unger so deliciously describes in her sessions. In a tiff, Unger makes off with some of Sciorra’s private files and tapes but, before you can say ropes and handcuffs, Sciorra finds Unger murdered in her gallery.

As it happens, Sciorra is also treating disturbed Latino artist John Leguizamo, whose penchant for painting angels he then desecrates may carry over into his personal treatment of women. Detective Anthony LaPaglia develops a thing for Sciorra while investigating the case, and it all devolves into a guessing game over which of these men killed Unger and may or may not be threatening Sciorra.

Some initial interest is generated by the intensely erotic performance of Unger, who during one office visit feels compelled to strip and masturbate in front of her shrink as a physical correlative to her emotional nakedness, and by the unavoidable voyeuristic appeal of the numerous private sexual revelations.

But a succession of psychiatric sessions do not a plot make, and writer-director Christopher Crowe nudges the picture along a very narrow track without coupling the viewer to the train.

One is supposed to be in Sciorra’s corner all the way, but her character is so wimpy and unassertive that she doesn’t engage one’s enthusiasm, and her lethargy in the face of so much jeopardy becomes a cloud of negative energy. Pages of dialogue devoted to issue of doctor-patient confidentiality also feel like excess baggage.

Although Michael Chapman’s prowling, sinuous camera moves creates some initial mood and mystery, Crowe ultimately exhibits a draggy, unmodulated style that is cold and allows the climactic confrontation between Sciorra and her predator to seem risible. Script and performances don’t allow even a glint of humor anywhere.

With the exception of Unger, thesping is no more than OK. Alda makes a rare straight dramatic appearance in a supporting role as a psychiatric honcho, with Jill Clayburgh on board as his concerned wife. Tech contributions are modest.

Whispers in the Dark

(Thriller--Color)

Production

A Paramount release of a Martin Bregman production. Produced by Bregman, Michael S. Bregman. Exec producers, Eric Freiser, Richard Gitelson, William Link , Andrew Deane. Co-producer, Stephen F. Kesten. Directed, written by Christopher Crowe.

Crew

Camera (Duart color; Deluxe prints), Michael Chapman; editor, Bill Pankow; music, Thomas Newman; production design, John Jay Moore; set decoration, Justin Scoppa Jr.; costume design, John Dunn; sound (Dolby), Allan Byer; assistant director, Anthony H. Gittelson; second unit director, David Ellis; additional camera, Richard J. Quinlan; second unit camera, Michael Benson; casting, Mary Colquhoun. Reviewed at Paramount Studios, L.A., July 30, 1992. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 102 min.

With

Ann Hecker ... Annabella Sciorra Doug McDowell ... Jamey Sheridan Morgenstern ... Anthony LaPaglia Sarah Green ... Jill Clayburgh Johnny C. ... John Leguizamo Eve Abergray ... Deborah Unger Leo Green ... Alan Alda Paul ... Anthony Heald Mrs. McDowell ... Jacqueline Brookes Billy O'Meara ... Gene Canfield
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