Alfred Hitchcock deserves better than the atrocious homage he gets in Paul Williams' "Mirage," an incoherent thriller that can't decide whether to slavishly copy Hitchcock's "Vertigo" or make a satire out of it. Preposterous plotting and radical changes in tone dictate the fate of this routine B picture as straight-to-video.

Alfred Hitchcock deserves better than the atrocious homage he gets in Paul Williams’ “Mirage,” an incoherent thriller that can’t decide whether to slavishly copy Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” or make a satire out of it. Preposterous plotting and radical changes in tone dictate the fate of this routine B picture as straight-to-video. Closing-night selection of the Palm Springs Film Festival was greeted with laughter and sneers by a bewildered audience.

The writer/director team of James Andronica and Williams, whose previous joint effort, “The November Men,” was seen by few people last year, lacks the savvy and technical skill of Brian De Palma, a filmmaker who has virtually made a career out of tributes to the Master of Suspense but also knows how to add a fresh angle, humor and irony to his homages.

In Andronica’s tale, Edward James Olmos is cast (in the Jimmy Stewart role) as Matteo Juarez, a down-and-out ex-cop in the Palm Springs area who cannot get over inadvertently causing the death of an innocent female hostage while trying to shoot her captor.

Just as he’s sinking deeper and deeper into melancholy, Matteo is hired by Donald Gale (played by the director), a rich industrialist/environmentalist intent on saving the Salton Sea, to protect Jennifer (Sean Young), his young, beautiful but mysterious wife, who seems to lead a double life.

Following Jennifer, Matteo is surprised to find she’s a stripper in a sleazy bar, concealing her identity under a blond wig — and a new name.

Between twice saving her life — first from a sexual assault, then from a suicide attempt atop a cliff — Matteo falls in love.

Later, when he can’t save Jennifer from a gruesome death in a holdup in her home, Matteo can’t help blaming himself.

Story jumps ahead to a year later, with Matteo even deeper into depression and alcoholism. One day, sitting at a bar, he spots a waitress who looks like Jennifer but claims to be a newly arrived Irish immigrant.

Obsessed and still madly in love with Jennifer, he sets out to reveal the woman’s true identity and in the process finds himself in a web of corrupt schemes and lies.

With the notable exception of Olmos, who manages to keep his face straight, the acting is uniformly bad, particularly that of Young, whose fainting and yelling — and heavy Irish accent — are excruciatingly fake.

Shot entirely in the vicinity of Palm Springs, pic has below-average production values, particularly Stephen Eckelberry’s abrupt editing and David Richard Campbell’s blatant score.

Mirage

Production

A Roadhouse/Tigertail Flicks/Shonderosa production. Produced, directed by Paul Williams. Executive producers, Robert and Barbara Rohdie, Chuck Plotkin, Wendy Brandchaft, Saul Skoler. Screenplay, James Andronica.

Crew

Camera (color)/production design, Susan Emerson; editor, Stephen Eckelberry; music, David Richard Campbell; sound (Dolby), Pat Somerset; associate producer, William Grillo Sr.; casting, Corrine Andronica. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival, Jan. 15, 1995. Running time: 106 min.

With

Matteo Juarez - Edward James Olmos Lt. Richie Randazzo - James Andronica Donald Gale - P.W. Williams Jennifer Gale - Sean Young
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