SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY
Fox Video Entertainment
Julia Roberts, according to conventional wisdom, can do no wrong in terms of her fans -- of whom there are many. But it remains to be seen if she'll ever make a film that's worthy of her current status as America's favorite actress.
This one isn't the ticket. It's full of talented people -- Miss Roberts, Patrick Bergin ("Mountains of the Moon"), Kevin Anderson ("Miles from Home") and director Joseph Ruben (who directed the brilliant thriller "The Stepfather"). And yet it falls flat, and rarely rises above the obvious.
Obsessive behavior is one of Hollywood's favorite subjects: men stalking women relentlessly; the violence and need to control that the more vulnerable person in a relationship can be subjected to. And yet Hollywood invariably gets it wrong by creating simplistic characters and obvious situations for the potentially dramatic, involving story lines.
"Sleeping With the Enemy" (a great title) is, alas, no exception. The story of a sweet young woman, Laura (Ms. Roberts), on the run from her dangerous fanatic of a husband (Mr. Bergin) will work for you only if you check your thinking cap at the door.
Laura decides only death -- her own -- will end her marital misery, so she fakes a drowning and sets about establishing a new identity. Enter gentle Ben (Mr. Anderson), a young drama professor who falls for Laura instantly, and then slowly learns her dark secrets. Meanwhile, her husband has discovered she's still alive. Her problems are just beginning.
TC That's the outline for a potentially surprising romantic thriller, but the surprises don't happen here.
Though it wasn't a hit, and was as overlooked as many recent Woody Allen films ("Another Woman," "September") "Alice" is something of a return to form for one of America's best filmmakers. It's a clever and lyrical fantasy/comedy/romance full the wit and imagination some accused Mr. Allen of having lost touch with after, say, "Purple Rose of Cairo."
The story is vintage Allen -- a wealthy New York woman has a crisis revolving around guilt, aging, adultery and values. That's a scenario Mr. Allen might have turned into something deadly serious (see "Interiors" or "September"). "Alice," however, though not without dramatic substance, is a comedy tinged with the fantasy embellishments of "what if?" scenarios.
The woman in question (played by Mia Farrow) turns to a Chinese herbalist (the great Keye Luke, in his final screen performance) for help with her marital woes, and is given the keys to life on another plane of existence. The results are funny and touching and without the cynicism we've come to expect from him lately. As usual, Mr. Allen has assembled a truly eclectic ensemble of actors and gets great performances out of them. Where else could you see Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, William Hurt, Joe Mantegna, Cybill Shepherd and Bernadette Peters in the same film?