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Crime vehicle for Maura Tierney shows the TV vet to good advantage, but her stint opposite Adrien Brody, as a super-slimy slayer, is just about all this febrile thriller has going for it.

With:
Madeline - Maura Tierney Harry - Adrien Brody Tim - Terry Kinney Hannon - James Naughton Frances - Laila Robins Jessie - Paul Calderon Jackson - Dylan Baker

Crime vehicle for Maura Tierney shows the TV vet to good advantage, but her stint opposite Adrien Brody, as a super-slimy slayer, is just about all this febrile thriller has going for it. The good acting is compromised by a fatally derivative script — one that can’t even keep its own borrowings straight. Without more marquee muscle, distrib outlook looks dim, especially since serial-killer genre already looks to be six feet under. Listing of 10 or more producers above the line suggests that somebody smelled money. They were wrong: It was just foul air. Pic should be an OK performer on HBO, which just acquired it for premiere airings before limited theatrical runs.

Pic starts with long chase sequence featuring ludicrously bad work from NYPD. The perp is finally nailed by long-suffering detective Madeline Foster (Tierney). Turns out she really is a masochist, into alcohol and other kinks her cop husband (Terry Kinney) barely begins to guess at. Back from a shooting-induced bender, she gets drawn into an unusually tough case involving someone who has kidnapped a rich Manhattanite (Laila Robins) and buried her alive in some upstate woods. Now he’s demanding a ransom from her tycoon husband (James Naughton) within the 24 hours it will take for her air to run out.

Eventually, Madeline is face-to-face with the scary creep (Brody), known only as Harry — as in Harry Houdini, re his propensity for quick escapes. Turns out his initial crimes were just opening gambits to a game of cat-and-mouse with the police, and with one policewoman in particular. This setup allows Brody much delicious mugging and licking of lips; he certainly makes a convincing nut job. But all his “I am you and you are me” psychoanalyzing is pretty tired stuff, in which much “dark side” palaver is intended to cover for ultra-sketchy characterization and half-baked plotting.

In helmer-scripter Richard Shepard’s hands, the cops don’t seem acquainted with the basic police procedures that ordinary “Law & Order” watchers know by heart. Because Harry wears braces on his teeth, one detective finally has the bright idea to visit all the orthodontists in town, leading to an interview montage that plays like a “Mad TV” takeoff of “Columbo.” A rare engaging seg has the excellent Dylan Baker as a droll fed who tries to muscle in on the case.

Vignettes with hammy Naughton as our victim’s angry husband are so fraught with jaw-clenching tube cliches, you half-expect the thesps to crack up from the silliness. They don’t, sadly, but some viewers might, waiting for a big “shock” ending so poorly handled that even those expecting it may miss the action.

On the other hand, Shepard got good use out of the Apple with a tiny budget and less than a month to shoot. Too bad the effort was wasted on a script that could honestly have been called “The Vanishing of the Lambs.”

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Production: A Curb Intl. presentation, in association with Abandon Pictures, of a Paddy Wagon Prods. production. Produced by Jonathan Stern, Richard Shepard, Carol Curb Nemoy, Mike Curb. Executive producers, Karen J. Lauder, Marcus Ticotin. Co-executive producers, William Lauder, Andrew Farkas. Co-producers, Raelle Koota, Jennifer Pearlman. Directed, written by Richard Shepard.

Crew: Camera (color), Sarah Crawley; editor, Adam Lichtenstein; music, Rolfe Kent; production designer, Rowena Rowlings; art director, Betsy McDonald; costume designer, Barbara Pressar; sound (Dolby), Dave Paterson; associate producer, George Conda; assistant director, Vince P. Maggio; casting, Laura Rosenthal, Ali Farrell. Reviewed at Taos Film Festival, April 17, 1999. (Also in Gen-Art, Cannes film festivals -- market.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With: Madeline - Maura Tierney Harry - Adrien Brody Tim - Terry Kinney Hannon - James Naughton Frances - Laila Robins Jessie - Paul Calderon Jackson - Dylan Baker

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