The news isn't good as 'Brenda Starr' sneaks into town

June 23, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Movie Critic

Folks, we're happy to announce a new wrinkle in our little movie department at The Sun: investigative criticism.

Now an investigative critic doesn't just sit there like a nodule on a stem or a pimple on a chin; no sir, he goes out and finds the dirt! He reads, as we say in investigative criticism, "between the lines." He digs.

And so it was that this reporter uncovered a major "scoop." Investigating up a storm in the Movie Calendar, we uncovered a "clue" that led not to a "Deep Throat" but to the Westview Theater complex, out on Route 40. There, or so the very small type informed us, the movie "Brenda Starr" was playing.

"Brenda Starr"! Yes! Once famous as the Brooke Shields star (r)-vehicle, the fabled film toppled into legal no-man's land when the Dino De Laurentiis movie empire collapsed. The movie languished, unseen, for five years, as various teams of lawyers sued one another and charged $750 an hour. Finally, early this year, it got a screening or two on the West Coast. Miss Shields said she hoped it would do well and breathe some life into her moribund career.

Then . . . silence.

But no more. Owing, perhaps, to a paucity of product or some obscure contract stipulation, "Brenda Starr" has taken up what will no doubt be a brief residency in one of the Westview's tinier venues. Immediate seating is available! The night I saw it, I was alone, until joined at the midpoint by the guy who takes the tickets, another dedicated movie masochist.

How bad is it?

Oh, let's just say it's so bad that I made a citizen's arrest on the lady who sold me the ticket. She squirmed, she screamed, she begged for mercy as I slammed on the cuffs, but we investigative critics can't show weakness or fear.

"Brenda Starr" begins in what appears to be a big-budget work-up of New York in the late '40s, when newshawks and newshens and photogs with Speed Graphics fought to get up close to the city's satiny demimonde, which is so familiar from the Dale Messick comic strip; but that one cityscape must have shot the art budget, because everything else could have been filmed in Tarzana with a production team borrowed from cable access.

Shields is Brenda, glamorous red-tressed newsdame to the world, sniffing out the scoops left and right, interviewing cabbages and kings without ever twisting the seams of her stockings (this was pre-pantyhose, of course) or rubbing the powder off her nose. An actress might have brought some vim to the part; Shields is as inert as she is tall and she's very tall. She totters over the wreckage like some giant waxen doll, immobile and thunder-thighed. She appears overdosed on lipstick.

The movie means to unspool in that zone of fable where irony meets camp; but it's too leaden for that. It bumbles along like Tinker Bell on steroids, charmless, clumsy and awesomely stupid. It seems to involve Starr's quest for a scientist in the Amazon who's developed a formula for turning water into gasoline. Meanwhile, Timothy Dalton, in an eyepatch, stumbles around like a man in a Hathaway shirt and a hath-not-a-clue demeanor. He looks lost.

Shields and Dalton are at least recognizable. Otherwise, the thing is peopled with dweebs whose 15 minutes was up five years ago, if it ever came. Diana Scarwid? Charles Durning? Henry Gibson? Henry Gibson!

He wasn't even funny on "Laugh-In" 25 years ago!

Are you sure this is how Woodward started?

'Brenda Starr'

Starring Brooke Shields and Timothy Dalton.

Released by A&M Films.

Rated R.

*

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