Office Killer

Deep-sixed by klutzy direction, mostly sophomoric performances and a script so flat it isn't even laughably bad, "Office Killer" sinks like a stone. Best place for this first helming stint by noted Gotham photog Cindy Sherman is under lock and key, with maybe a swift parole on video.

With:
Dorine Douglas - Carol Kane Kim Poole - Molly Ringwald Norah Reed - Jeanne Tripplehorn Virginia - Barbara Sukowa Daniel - Michael Imperioli Gary Michaels - David Thornton Landau - Mike Hodge Dorine's mom - Alice Drummond

Deep-sixed by klutzy direction, mostly sophomoric performances and a script so flat it isn’t even laughably bad, “Office Killer” sinks like a stone. Best place for this first helming stint by noted Gotham photog Cindy Sherman is under lock and key, with maybe a swift parole on video. Strand, which took the film on domestically from Miramax, will open it in December.

Given Sherman’s distinguished work as a still photographer, with her B movie-inspired play with light and shade, the biggest surprise is the pic’s look, which, apart from intermittent toying with partially obscured framing, is uninteresting and dully lit — to the point where some crucial action can’t even be made out. It’s almost as if Sherman was persuaded into making a pic she had no real interest in but which the producers reckoned with her name attached would be a selling point. Movie is one in a planned series of low-budget ($300,000) horror movies masterminded by vet indie producer Christine Vachon.

Setting is the less-than-high-tech offices of a N.Y. consumer magazine, where restructuring is in progress and staff are being forced to work from home. One of those affected is mousy copy editor Dorine (Carol Kane) who, when working late one night helping sleazy writer Gary (David Thornton) solve a computer problem, accidentally electrocutes him. Dorine panics and dumps the body in her car, but through a flashback to her youth, we soon learn all her playing cards aren’t exactly in the right order.

The sudden disappearance of Gary — and his urgently needed cover story — throws the mag’s publisher, queen bitch Virginia (Barbara Sukowa), into a tizzy, and Dorine and office assistant Kim (Molly Ringwald) are ordered to reconstruct it pronto from his notes. Dorine gets all the praise for this, further exacerbating Kim’s dislike of her.

Meanwhile, her appetite whetted by Gary’s accident, and driven by a mass of deep-seated frustrations, Dorine has embarked on her own Final Solution, offing first Virginia and then office manager Norah (Jeanne Tripplehorn), and disguising their disappearances by sending fake e-mails as if the two still were alive. Only one to suspect the mild-mannered killer is Kim.

In its early stages, the film aims for a kind of modern-baroque spoofery, with Dorine nagged at home by her crippled mom, the women in the office all at each other’s throats and Dorine herself toddling through the picture as the world’s most unlikely mass murderer. However, the script (on which both Todd Haynes and Tom Kalin were hired hands) is so lusterless, the pacing so leaden and the psychology so poorly worked out, that the pic doesn’t even work as a black comedy. Later gore scenes just look silly.

Sole thesp to make any kind of mark is Ringwald, cast against type as a sassy, sharp-tongued secretary. Kane, looking like a hamster caught in the headlights, sticks to her characterization and sinks with the movie. Sukowa briefly has some fun overacting as the publisher and Tripplehorn is bland.

Evan Lurie’s attentive, rhythmic score, centered on a string quartet, is far more distinguished than the action deserves. Aside from some deliberately gaudy color for the flashbacks to Dorine’s youth, lensing by Russell Fine is mostly blah. In interviews, Sherman has professed her admiration for Dario Argento, and a little of the Italian frightmeister’s over the top theatricality would have been a blessing here.

Office Killer

Production: A Strand release of a Good Machine, Kardana/Swinsky Films presentation of a Good Fear production. (International sales: Miramax Intl., N.Y.) Produced by Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler. Executive producers, Tom Carouso, John Hart, Ted Hope, James Schamus. Directed by Cindy Sherman. Screenplay, Elise MacAdam, Tom Kalin, from a screen story by Sherman, MacAdam; additional dialogue, Todd Haynes.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Russell Fine; editor, Merril Stern; music, Evan Lurie; music supervision, Randall Poster; production design, Kevin Thompson; art direction, Ford Wheeler; sound (Dolby), Neil Danziger; special effects makeup, Rob Benevides; assistant director, Jude Gorjanc. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival, Aug. 11, 1997. (Also in Edinburgh, Toronto festivals.) Running time: 83 min.

With: Dorine Douglas - Carol Kane Kim Poole - Molly Ringwald Norah Reed - Jeanne Tripplehorn Virginia - Barbara Sukowa Daniel - Michael Imperioli Gary Michaels - David Thornton Landau - Mike Hodge Dorine's mom - Alice Drummond

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