Theresa Russell lacks range for 'Whore'

MOVIE REVIEW

December 07, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Whore" is basically a one-woman show. But it's the wrong woman.

Theresa Russell, an actress who once had the beginnings of a serious career after her work in "Black Widow," plays Liz, a Los Angeles street prostitute. The movie, derived from a play by David Hines, is basically conceived as a hilariously profane monologue in which the uninhibited Liz turns to the camera and baldly discusses the ups and downs of her life in the Life.

Lily Tomlin maybe. Jane Fonda possibly. Kathleen Turner on a good day.

BTC But Theresa Russell: not on your life, chum.

Russell simply lacks the technique; she doesn't seem to possess a great many resources for bringing Liz's rotten world to the screen. In fact, her impersonation in no way connects with a reality so much as it does with Cassandra Peterson's impersonation of Elvira, Mistress of Darkness, with the exaggerated eye rolls, the sneery mouth that seems to crumple and then spit out words, the elaborate overstressing of signature phrases. It doesn't help at all that Russell is simply and ridiculously too beautiful, too soft, too sexy, too clean, to pass as one of those tragically bleak Roxannes who sell their bodies to the night.

A few of the interludes in the long day's journey into banality are memorable; there's a nice few minutes where Liz considers exactly what it is men want from her and why, when she gives it to them, they seem to hate her for it. In a rare moment of cross-gender kinship, she seems to see them as victimized as much as she is.

And a few of her zany tricks have a comic-macabre twist to them like the guy who wants to lick her shoe while she repeats, "Johnny, what a bad boy you are! Mommy is very angry!" over and over. But the overwrought Ken Russell, who directed, is wholly unable to create this world with quite the same passion that Gus Van Sant brought to a similar milieu, the streetboy culture of Portland, in the much more poignant and compassionate "My Own Private Idaho." This is Russell's own private nowhere.

A whisper of plot has been thrown onto the monologue, in which Liz's pimp (Benjamin Mouton) hunts for her in order to brutalize her back into obedience. Wings Hauser's pimp in "Vice Squad" was much more demonic, however, than Mouton's pale yuppie.

Profane works of art come along once in a great while: that is, works set so far beyond the boundaries of the moral world, so far in the muck of the demimonde, that they shock by their very existence, even as they move us with their humanity, their expressions of love, their compassion and remind us that no matter what the circumstances, people have more in common than not.

"Whore" wants desperately to be such a work; it misses by about a mile and a half.

'Whore'

Starring Theresa Russell.

Directed by Ken Russell.

Released by Trimark.

Rated NC-17.

*

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