Although it exists primarily to send an audience into a bloodthirsty frenzy and has major credibility problems in the bargain, “Unlawful Entry” is still a very effective victimization thriller. Strongly following the “Fatal Attraction” pattern–to the point of having a very similar climax–well-crafted concoction trades in the sorts of elemental concerns and fears that get people mightily worked up. This, combined with controversy pic may engender based on its prominent plot element of excessive police violence, gives it the potential to become a summer sleeper hit.
As he usually does, director Jonathan Kaplan pushes his material toward interesting areas of social and class-structure observations, notably suggesting that cops exist on a plane of society all their own, which sets them apart from normal citizens in negative ways.
At the same time, this is one more story about a sicko whom the viewer–but not most of the characters–can spot a mile away, resulting in a plausibility line that gets crossed repeatedly.
Tense opening scene has a black intruder breaking into the lovely L.A. home of attractive married couple Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe. The man escapes after having a scuffle with Russell and holding a knife to Stowe’s throat, and the policemen (Ray Liotta and Roger E. Mosley) are the picture of helpfulness and encouragement.
Problem is that Liotta becomes excessively solicitous, arranging for the installation of a top-notch security system in the couple’s home, eagerly accepting an invitation to dinner and inviting Russell on a nocturnal “ride-along” in his police car.
Obligingly, Liotta nabs the guy who broke into Russell’s house, and, when the latter refuses the cop’s invitation to use his baton to take physical revenge on the cowering criminal, Liotta beats the hell out of the guy himself.
This turns Russell against Liotta forever, but Stowe prefers to think of him as a good man whose job-related proximity to violence just gives him a somewhat different way of seeing things.
After speaking nicely to a class at the elementary school where Stowe and her friend Deborah Offner teach, Liotta comes on to Stowe in a quiet but insidious way, and from this point he will stop at nothing to get Russell out of the way and have Stowe for himself.
Main problem from the outset is that it is perfectly apparent to everyone except Stowe that Liotta is a creep to be avoided at all costs. Mosley moans audibly when he realizes in their opening scene that Liotta is interested in the lady of the house, but Stowe gives the man every opening while seeming to remain naive about his true intentions.
Conversely, for the sexual tension of the climax to pay off properly, Stowe should be shown to have been erotically intrigued by danger and edginess represented by Liotta. He repeatedly suggests that Russell is not man enough to take care of her–that only he, as a smart cop, can keep her safe.
But any deep or even repressed feelings Stowe may have for this man of action remain so unexplored as to possibly not even be present, which makes her behavior toward the end impossible to read.
With his inside knowledge and tricks, Liotta manages to get Russell put behind bars, and last section of the picture becomes a race between the wronged husband to spring himself from jail and the maniac cop’s effort to have his way with the woman he craves.
Conclusive showdown between the two men feeds on basic instincts that go back to animals and their caves, and therefore will have audiences hooting and hollering in vengeful anticipation of payback and comeuppance.
Kaplan stages the mayhem well and manages to throw in a couple of nice diversions and surprises, even if it’s all been done before and arouses some of the audience’s crasser tendencies.
Pic shows an intriguing alternative direction that it could have pursued in a sequence in which a furious Russell kicks Liotta out of a fancy party he’s thrown for potential investors in a new nightclub.
Kaplan lingers for an unusually long time on a distraught Liotta alone out on the sidewalk, and a whole biography comes flooding in of a man cut off from normal society, who can’t have a regular relationship with a woman, who can consort only with whores, whose dreams of a proper life seem impossible to achieve.
Had this character line been followed, with Liotta as an essentially decent gone wrong, same story might have achieved genuinely chilling dimensions. Instead, making the cop clearly off base and demented from the beginning gets everyone off the hook, even if the film does draw on many of the real insecurities and tensions that make up contemporary urban life.
Scenes of Liotta’s brutality are disturbing even though he’s a nut, and will certainly be widely commented on in the light of the Rodney King case.
Liotta effectively conveys both the nice and the nasty sides of his character , but, as indicated, the true sexual tension between him and Stowe is absent and he tips his hand too early regarding the man’s instability.
Russell is solid as the husband who must rise to an unwanted occasion, while Stowe is opaque as the wife whose decisions and motivations are often questionable. Mosley and, as Russell’s lawyer, Ken Lerner register very well.
Tech contributions are strong–notably Jamie Anderson’s broodingly atmospheric lensing, Curtiss Clayton’s alert editing and James Horner’s suspenseful score.