'Jennifer 8' presents a mystery in Garcia but a thriller in Malkovich

November 06, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"Jennifer 8" was calculated to make a star out of Andy Garcia, but it will only make a star out of John Malkovich, who doesn't need to be made a star because he already is one.

And you can see why. "Jennifer 8" meanders murkily all over creation for close to two hours, following the tortured Garcia's peregrinations as he attempts to find a serial killer who specializes in raping and dismembering blind women. Problem One: The killer may not exist. Problem Two: If he does exist, he may be Andy Garcia.

Suddenly, when Garcia is deepest in the do-do, Malkovich comes into the film as a wily, tough-minded FBI agent, an interrogation expert, and in two or three crisp scenes he sets the movie back on its feet and aims it toward The End. Malkovich is terrific; he represents everything the movie lacks: he's incisive, practical, unflappable and unstoppable. He gives his character just the faintest nasty edge; he's focused and dynamic.

But bring me the head of Andy Garcia! He spends most of the movie's considerable running time glowering menacingly or roughing up fellow cops -- that is, when he has not collapsed into a cocoon of self-pity. The movie follows as he's moved to a small Northern California town after having burned out as a big city cop in L.A., chiefly because he couldn't get anybody to buy into his psycho-killer theory. His specialty appears to be forensic reconstruction, and some of the movie has the ghoulish fascination of watching someone solve a puzzle out of dead flesh. It makes grave robbers of us all.

British writer-director Bruce Robinson is brilliantly gifted. He wrote "The Killing Fields," and wrote and directed several perversely nasty British items -- "Withnall and I" and "How To Get Ahead in Advertising." He brings that perversity to his first American project, particularly in the way he toys with the possibility that the pathology lurks within Garcia. But this isn't quite as interesting as it sounds.

Also uninteresting is poor Uma Thurman, lanky and beautiful and opaque-eyed behind hazed contacts, playing the young woman who may become the next Jennifer. Robinson gets some mileage out of her burgeoning relationship with Garcia and her entree, through him, into sighted culture from the cloisters of her institute. But this also seems so flamboyantly unprofessional that it makes you lose sympathy with Garcia.

Then there's a too trickily-filmed shooting death for which Garcia may or may not be responsible, in which Robinson is guilty of pushing the did-he-did-he-not? thing too far, until it feels coldly manipulative. And there's a final twist that's the strangest thing I've ever seen in a thriller.

You spend two hours with a protagonist and you have every right to expect that he will be present at the climax and that the climax will devolve from his character and actions. "Jennifer 8's" ranking perversity and radical idiocy is to completely remove him from the movie at climax time; he's in the car, driving there! Meanwhile, a minor character solves the case, acts with resolve, valor and a sense of outrage to neatly serve the interests of

justice (uninteresting) and vengeance (extremely satisfying). Excuse me, but if this person was so important, why wasn't the movie about him or her in the first place?

All in all, "Jennifer 8" is about four bricks shy a load and two hours too long.

'Jennifer 8'

Starring Andy Garcia and Uma Thurman.

Directed by Bruce Robinson.

Released by Paramount.

Rated R.

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