His longtime chum Duncan (John Ritter), an advocate of New Age therapies, urges him to try objectification, a type of self-hypnosis involving the construction in his mind of an alternative self.
Richard at first scoffs at the idea, but, inspired by his heavy intake of afternoon mystery movies on cable, he pretty soon imagines himself — in black-and-white, replete with voiceover and accompanied by the strains of a bluesy saxophone — as jaded Los Angeles private eye Rick Stone.
A sultry blond neighbor (Andrea Thompson) to whom he has never spoken also enters the fantasy as recently widowed Jade Norfleet. She is convinced someone is trying to kill her, and enlists Rick’s help. Aided by a tip-off from an underworld restaurateur known as the Black Chinaman (Victor Love, who doubles as Richard’s nurse), Rick uncovers a murder plot orchestrated by Jade’s scheming sis (Lenz again) in cahoots with a corrupt cop (Billy Bob Thornton).
The script, by director Stefani Ames and “One False Move” co-writer Tom Epperson, is more notable for its use of common elements that bleed into both strands than for either one taken on its own merits. Richard’s feelings for the figures in his real life tend to carry over to those in his imagination, and, likewise, the outcome of the mystery appears to alter the shape of certain important life choices he makes.
Part of the reason the material remains on the flat side is the uncharismatic cast. Metzler functions well enough in the noir scenes but fails to spark much interest in Richard or provide him with any depth. Lenz is shrill in both guises, and other actors, including Ritter and Thornton, who also appears as Peep’s shifty bumpkin boyfriend, merely walk through it.