Sciorra struggles in vain to save 'Whispers'

August 07, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

For sheer kitsch ludicrousness, nothing can beat the climax of "Whispers in the Dark," a creepy, twisty, overdone thriller that dissolves before your very eyes. In fact I yearn to describe it, in all its grandeur and folly, to make its preposterousne So trust me: It's a lulu.

As for the movie that proceeds this bonfire of inanity, however, it's not a lulu. It's not even an Annabella, even though Annabella Sciorra, a very fine actress, holds it together on the sheer power of her talent and brains with no help from director-writer Christopher Crowe. If she's not a star, she should be; but "Whispers in the Dark" won't help.

Sciorra plays a New York psychotherapist who is treating a very sick pup of patient, a woman engulfed in an incredibly kinky affair with a man whose sexual appetites are so recondite they defy description in a family newspaper. Let's just say, in the words of the immortal Tennessee Williams, they cover the waterfront.

Meanwhile, in her private life, the psychotherapist has met Mr. Wonderful, the "gentlest man" she's ever known. Jamey Sheridan has this thankless role, which consists mainly of standing around as if he's posing for the Pieta. Anyway, the movie's first Big Moment is when Sciorra bumbles into the discovery that the demon lover of her patient and her own Mr. Nice Guy are one and the same!

From this, all sorts of complications ensue, particularly when the patient (Deborah Unger) makes the same discovery by the same unlikely accumulations of coincidences and accuses her psychotherapist of conspiring against her. Then, having made a scene, she very quickly commits suicide, a death that under medical scrutiny turns out to have been a murder.

A self-pitying cop, a sick and twisted Puerto Rican artist-rapist and a kindly psychiatrist mentor, played by none other than the Crown Prince of Sensitivity, Mr. Alan Alda, begin to shuffle and hover around poor Sciorra in the most arbitrary of ways.

The movie is primarily an exercise in red herrings, which Crowe throws about with the abandon of an enraged seal. In fact, the largest and smelliest of them is the whole subtext of kinky sex, which drives the movie forward in its first and best half, which is the essence of its extremely hot and effective preview and ad campaign, and is almost certainly the element that got it green-lighted by Paramount in the wake of "Basic Instinct's" hundred-million-dollar take.

But the kinkiness of Ms. Unger's sex life and the wildness of the two hairy tales she tells her psychotherapist (and the audience) in the early going turn out to have nothing to do with anything. The plot is held together merely by an accumulation of coincidences that mount dizzily until they can no longer be kept in mind.

But the one sin from which "Whispers in the Dark" cannot be forgiven is the sin of inappropriateness. This is a value which can't be taught; it is simply known, or in the case of the idiot Crowe, not known. At one point, to shock Sciorra, Crowe has his grubby policeman (Anthony LaPaglia, much too young for his part) show her some photos of beaten women. I have no idea whether the pictures are authentic or the result of studio artists: but the images are so shocking and so powerful they all but blow the flimsy little shell that suspends them away. Long after "Whispers" ceases its whispering, you are left with those indelible images of pain cheaply used to goose an audience. That's not merely inappropriate, it's completely disgusting.

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