Taking the central notion of Sidney Lumet’s 1976 satire, “Network,” to a ludicrous extreme, George Sluizer’s “Crimetime” is a senseless thriller about a futuristic society in which there is no distinction between reality and its representation by the mass media. Toplined by a seriously miscast Stephen Baldwin and featuring a cop-out ending that’s shamelessly lifted from Brian DePalma’s “Body Double,” pic is so cynical that it ends up shooting itself in the foot. Though stylishly made, negative reviews and bad word of mouth will send this derivative, borderline exploitation movie quickly to video stores.
Watching “Crimetime” is like browsing through a compendium of cliches from recent high-profile movies, such as “Natural Born Killers,” about TV’s irresponsibility and insatiable appetite for sensationalistic programming. Central idea, however, that actors sometimes immerse themselves too seriously and dangerously in their stage roles, dates back to George Cukor’s l947 “A Double Life” and was most recently seen in the indie “A Man in Uniform” (aka “I Love a Man in Uniform”).
The last thing the international cinema needs right now is another gory thriller about a serial killer, but director Sluizer seems to think otherwise, for one gets the impression that he believes he’s telling a socially relevant cautionary tale. But pic’s chief message, that portraying real-life violence as glamorous entertainment is a perilous and even lethal game, is by now too familiar to generate any excitement or concern among intelligent viewers.
Baldwin plays Bobby, an ambitious but unemployed actor catapulted to stardom when he’s cast as a serial killer in a TV crime re-enactment program called “Crimetime.” At first, Bobby is squeamish about his new part, but, being a pretentious Method actor, he begins to immerse himself obsessively in the details of the role. Before taping his show, Bobby is tipped off by the police as to details of the latest murder for example, what kind of knife was used or which body part was stabbed first by the killer.
Bobby becomes a small-screen idol while Sidney (Peter Postlethwaite) , the real psychotic killer, is seduced by the glamorous portrayal of his actions and desperately seeks greater fame. Driven insane by the fatal illness of his blind wife (Geraldine Chaplin), he continues to torture his innocent female victims just for the sake of seeing “himself” onscreen.
The only “new,” though morally dubious, elements in “Crimetime” are the notion of Sidney modeling himself after his dazzling TV persona and a poorly written scene in which Bobby confronts the serial killer in person. Pic is further marred by a disingenuous ending that undercuts its premise of a society suffering from moral bankruptcy and disintegration.
With this unworthy assignment, Sluizer continues a downward slide in a career that includes the brilliant movie “Utz” and the genuinely scary original Dutch version of “The Vanishing.” “Crimetime” is directed in a glitzy but trivial and impersonal style. Worse yet, Sluizer parades Baldwin in partial and full nudity for no apparent reason other than titillating the audience.
Postlethwaite, one of the most gifted character players around, is wasted in a pathetic role. The usually reliable Karen Black plays a preposterous version of Faye Dunaway’s role in “Network,” coming across as a broad caricature. As Bobby’s g.f., Sadie Frost is so tedious that she makes her role even more unappealing than it is on the page. Pic should benefit from a healthy trimming of at least 20 minutes. Technical credits are proficient.