'Love Crimes' promises fireworks, but it never gets off the ground

January 27, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

In the extensive literature of physical passion, which ranges from Valentine jingles to autopsy reports, "Love Crimes" will amount to but a footnote.

A post-feminist thriller meant to be as sleek and alluring as it is provocative, it somehow never comes to much. The movie is all tease.

It does move onto new ground, exploring that weird zone in the boy-girl thing that is more than seduction but possibly less than rape, when men don't beat but swindle reluctant women into having sex with them. Patrick Bergin, as silkily menacing as he was in "Sleeping With the Enemy," plays a sexual psychopath who pretends to be a Vogue photographer and then subtly, insistently, insinuatingly cons his prey into carnal relations. Then he disappears, though he may occasionally steal a car from them.

What's so terrifying about him is that he seems to have a gift for selecting victims whose weaknesses and needs he can read like a book; he only does to them that which they've secretly dreamed about for years. Is this rape? The victims themselves aren't sure and, usually humiliated, sometimes liberated, won't testify.

A prosecuting attorney who specializes in cases involving sexual extortion decides to go after the man. But one look at her androgynous features and no-nonsense style and you realize that something weird is ticking under the surface of this zealot's exterior, too. Sean Young may not be a great actress, but director Lizzie Borden photographs the angular perfection of her face and body to suggest a monument to repression and denied sexuality.

Frankly, the TV ads make the film look a lot more exciting than it is. Somehow the kinky attraction these two have for each other never explodes; their weird attraction-repulsion ritual is never consummated. In fact, it's a little difficult to tell exactly what has happened, after she follows him from Atlanta to his home in rural Georgia and then bumblingly becomes his captive.

Borden, who made the provocative "Working Girls" some years back, loves the ambiguity of the relationship, but perhaps too much. She always gives us less, rather than more (except in the skin department, where there's quite a bit of more.) Published reports suggest that the film was massively trimmed to avoid an NC-17 rating, leaving the story's key points a collection of whispers and vapors; perhaps the answer to some of the questions lie on a cutting room floor somewhere.

Curiously, the more rewarding payoff in the movie is the relationship between Arnetia Walker and Ron Orbach as, respectively, an Atlanta police detective (black and female) and a Savannah police detective (white and male) who grudgingly come to appreciate each other as they hunt for the missing Young. I'd like to see a movie about them sometime.

'Love Crimes'

STARS: Sean Young and Patrick Bergin

DIRECTOR: Lizzie Borden


** 1/2

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