movie review by
Crissa-Jean Chappell


(© 2000 Destination Film Distribution Company, Inc. All rights reserved.)

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Eye of the Beholder
Stephan Elliott would like to thank Hal, Tex, Francis, Federico, Hitch, Chuck, Walter, Steven and Jacques. These aren't nine of his closest friends. They symbolize some of history's greatest filmmakers. For some reason, the Australian writer-director (best known for The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert) includes them in the closing credits to his kinky suspense thriller Eye of the Beholder. It's meant as a compliment, though it's tough to imagine his "top best" list of auteurs wanting anything to do with this neo-noir drivel (lucky for Elliott, most of them are dead). What do we make of this? Perhaps Elliott is lending a last-minute apology for stealing such a scattered mix of styles--not that any of them amount to much as a whole.

By mid-January, the movie industry dumps its clunkiest releases in a murky tide of cinematic flotsam. Among the most pretentious is Elliott's modernized nightmare, based on the cerebral 1980 book by Marc Behm. It begins when a British secret service agent (Trainspotting's smack-happy Ewan McGregor, playing a character so superficial, he doesn't even go by a first name) peeps on a rich minister's playboy son and catches him in "flagrant delicto" with a lingerie-clad criminal known as Joanna (Ashley Judd). In the middle of their desktop tryst, she whips out a knife and carves up the schmuck. Covered in dark, sticky blood, she cries, "Merry Christmas, Daddy!" for no apparent reason.

This excites secret agent Eye, a recluse who avoids all human contact--except through his outdated arsenal of bullet-shooting cameras, forever on the fritz. Instead of nabbing the lady lunatic, he takes off across the country-trailing her from the Big Apple to San Francisco, to Alaska. He skips his regular assignment and works unbeknownst to his company contact, K.D. Lang (who sports a suit and an attitude). His obsession with Joanna's murky identity mounts into an all-consuming desire.

Call it a romance where the couple hardly ever makes contact. To make matters more confusing, the Eye's wife and nine-year-old daughter are absent without leave--a not-so-minor detail that is never fully explained. We're supposed to draw psychological connections between the Eye's missing daughter (who materializes as an annoying figment of the Eye's overwrought imagination) and Judd, who is "just a little girl," according to the whispery voice-overs and Chrissie Hynde's ever-present song lyrics.

Elliott's revisionist script (which doesn't come close to the faithfulness of French director Claude Miller's 1983 opus, Deadly Circuit) pictures the Eye as a bumbling, insecure dunderhead who can't even get his cell phones to operate. The original story imagines him much older and craggier (which makes perfect sense in context of the daughter/killer character overlapping). Here, he has fallen in love with the cold-hearted killer. She's not a charming murderer who inspires much sympathy. Her motivations fall flat, as does Judd's one-note performance. Unless we understand what generates her violent outbursts, they seem laughable, rather than menacing.

There's something askew in Elliott's logic (or lack thereof). Freud would have a field day with this pretentious film. A father abandons his daughter, which produces a man-hating psychopath. A mother takes her daughter away from the father, which produces an identity crisis, neurosis, and hallucinations. Underneath all the psychobabble is a thin current of misogyny. No positive female figures make an appearance. Genevieve Bujold (the legendary actress known for being very particular about her movie roles) plays a femi-nazi shrink who teaches Joanna to wear campy wigs and drink cognac. Only Jason Priestley gets to have a little fun, licking hypodermic needles in a desert shack.

The confusing cinematography wants to tell us: "This is an art film." We know by the oh-so-clever location set-ups (lensed inside a rotating parade of souvenir snow globes) and the overemphasis on glitzy technology. Enough with the glowing computer screens. Who wants to watch emotionless people communicating through monitors? Better hope for a power outage.

[rating: 1 of 4 stars]