Making a mess of a classic

October 09, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Michael Cimino's "Desperate Hours" begins with a long sequence in which the beautiful young actress Kelly Lynch, her blond hair flying, roars across the picturesque state of Utah in her Jaguar, ripping up a shroud of dust, ratcheting through gears, fishtailing left and right, bounding over hill and dale. She must be fleeing the coppers or racing to the hospital to give birth.

But no.

She's trying to catch the bus.

Well, she makes it to the bus, but the movie itself never does.

A clumsy, not-very-well-thought-out version of the classic Humphrey Bogart-Frederic March hostage melodrama from the mid-'50s, this one stars Mickey Rourke as an escaped convict who takes over a suburban house with his gang, and Anthony Hopkins as the man of the house.

Or rather, the ex-man of the house; one of Cimino's tropes is to "update" the materials, so that the stolid, middle-class March household is now very '90s; the house is about to be sold, because divorce is imminent: Mom has kicked Dad out after catching him with a much younger woman and no longer trusts him. We're not in the middle of "Leave it to Beaver" but "fortysomething."

A few other updates: The Rourke character is now imagined in the image of Jack Henry Abott, the literary convict whom a great many people who should have known better worked to free from prison, after which he promptly killed a man. Rourke's character has even attended (by correspondence, one assumes) the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars! But nothing ever comes of this. And the Dad is now a Vietnam war hero; but nothing ever comes of this, either.

And a final, absurdist touch: The mild-mannered FBI agent in the original has become female, in the form of Lindsay Crouse, masquerading behind a Southern accent. As before, she represents the Bureau's liberal wing, and doesn't want the stakeout team to go tactical, that is, kick down the door and start shooting. Her character makes no sense at all.

This movie essentially has two characters, Rourke and Hopkins, who are so hammy they drive out everybody else (including Mimi Rogers as the wife and Elias Koteas as Rourke's brother). Neither actor is particularly convincing, but Rourke, with his smugness, megalomania and lip-smacking self-love really reaches new heights of repugnance.

And the story just isn't well told. Cimino insists on shooting all the law enforcement conferences in a state of high hubbub, with a lot of swirling camera movement and roaring background noise and action; the result isn't "reality" but incoherence -- you can't hear what's going on so you can't make the key connections with the plot.

It's just a mess.

'Desperate Hours'

Starring Mickey Rourke and Anthony Hopkins.

Directed by Michael Cimino.

Released by MGM.

Rated R.

* 1/2

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