movie review by
Gary Johnson


[click on photos
for larger versions]

Web site:

Web site:

Goodbye Lover
Director Roland Joffe's career got off to an impressive start with The Killing Fields (1984) and The Mission (1986). But since then, his career has sputtered. In 1995, he directed arguably one of the worst movies of the past decade--The Scarlet Letter. And the same year, he produced the special-effects laden box-office dud Super Mario Bros.

His new movie, Goodbye Lover, bears little similarity to any of his previous movies. Unlike his work on The Killing Fields or The Mission, Joffe isn't attempting to create another epic. Joffe knows he's creating a genre movie and he appears content to let the movie remain a nasty, little thriller--that clocks in just over 90 minutes.

Back in the '50s, Goodbye Lover would have made great material for a B movie. It's filled with deception and murderous intentions. Patricia Arquette is cast in the femme fatale role as a sexually insatiable women named Sandra Dunmore who loves stiletto heels and takes serious exception when her lover, Ben (Don Johnson), refuses to see her anymore. As he begins seeing a squeaky clean co-worker played by Mary-Louise Parker, Arquette does a slow burn--"Little Miss Prissy might be good for your image, but I'm good for your imagination," she tells Ben--and threatens to tell her husband Jake (Dermot Mulroney) about the affair. Jake just happens to be Ben's brother and the thought that Sandra might be having an affair has made him suicidal!

Or at least that's what appears to be happening. But nothing is what it seems in Goodbye Lover.

Once you figure out that the plot's prime motivation is to continually turn the tables on every situation it sets up, the movie then becomes mechanical. It's not always easy to predict where the movie will go, but it's easy to predict when the filmmakers are ready to undermine our expectations. In this respect, the movie becomes predictable and not particularly surprising.

To help keep our attention off the mechanical plot maneuvers, Joffe keeps the camera's attention on Arquette throughout most of the movie. The camera frequently caresses her legs, beginning on her feet and slowly drifting up her calves and her thighs--as if the movie were a love letter to her. Without a doubt, Ms. Arquette does indeed have great gams, but the screenplay seems content simply establishing her as a set of contradictions: she's a hot house of sexual urges, but she's also a devout churchgoer. She loves to sing songs from Sound of Music, but her sense of theatrics is mostly of the Grand Guignol school. She can parrot back self-help tapes word for word, but the self-help advice has had little effect on her. Get the idea? Sandra Dunmore is a twisted mass of contradictions, but the contradictions are as premeditated as the movie's plot twists.

The movie's machinations could be tolerable, maybe even ingratiating (in classic B movie fashion), but then Ellen DeGeneres shows up as a cynical, wise-cracking police detective, and the movie quickly starts to fall apart. Playing one of the least-likely detectives in screen history, DeGeneres utters false notes every time she opens her mouth and soon becomes a major irritant.

Goodbye Lover isn't a bad movie, but neither is it particularly memorable. Its outrageous plot twists are all a little too familiar to ever become truly surprising.

[rating: 2½ of 4 stars]