The third feature of New York “New Waver” helmer Beth B (who co-directed “Vortex” and “Salvation” with Scott B), “Two Small Bodies” is a two-actor theater piece skillfully transposed to film but cramped by its single setting.
Though the storyline — a cop accuses a young cocktail waitress of killing her own children — is strong, pic’s extreme faithfulness to the one-set play has an old-fashioned feel likely to limit its appeal. After a few theatrical playoffs, this one will be ready for the small screen.
The dynamics between a nasty, sexist cop and a sexually inhibited, fragile-but-tough young woman offer an emotional field day for screenwriters Beth B and Neal Bell, the play’s author. “Bodies” is a powerful exercise in female humiliation, with the woman turning the tables on her aggressor before they achieve some kind of equal standing.
Lt. Brann (Fred Ward), a cross between Richard Gere, Columbo and Mickey Spillane, is convinced that blond Eileen Mahoney (Suzy Amis) is a criminal the moment he sees her wearing only a slip. His interrogations soon turn to badgering and outrageous insinuations. Mahoney stands her ground, tauntingly calling herself a slut who brings men home. She paints the worst-case scenario herself: She and her one-night stand have sex in front of the kids, suffocate them and coldbloodedly dispose of the bodies.
Though it’s clear Brann has no case, he becomes so obsessed with her he returns day and night for “additional questioning.” Finally he tells her they’ve found her children strangled not far from the house, and confronts her with a police photo of the bodies.
Mahoney takes all this punishment on the chin and dishes it back. She, too, is clearly hooked on the snarling lieutenant, who even undresses in her kitchen to unnerve her.
As the mother who’s grieved over the loss of her children but is rather glad to be free of constricting family life, Amis is measured and witty. Veteran thesp Ward, all wild surmises and flailing insults, is allowed only flashes of vulnerability, far too few to endear him to auds.
Despite its high pitch, film gets a little boring once its structure becomes clear. Pic would have benefited from a few visual surprises. As it is, characters are limited to a couple of costume changes and an angry striptease by each.