In 'Crush,' puppy love acquires a rabid bite

April 06, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"The Crush" is one of those nasty items from the foul rag and bone shop of the human spirit, a cynical, violent exercise in cinematic nihilism and commercial avarice.

It represents a particularly banal middle-aged fantasy: that some extremely hot jailbait is going to fall so psychotically in love with you that she literally turns violent in order to have you for herself. But of course her dementedness is really the mirror image of your perfection: She's Lolita with a baseball bat and an attitude problem because -- well, because you're so darn cool. Secretly, it's a myth of renewal as seen through a glass darkly.

The story takes off from the arrival of a young (28 years old) journalist in Seattle, where he's got a hot job on a sexy magazine (called Pique, I kid you not). He rents the guest house behind an old mansion from two curiously pliant (or moronic) parents, who obligingly disappear for long stretches of time so that their daughter, nubile and 14 and immensely talented, can bond with Nick. The director, Alan Shapiro, goes so far as to repeat some of the elements of Stanley Kubrick's notorious "Lolita," photographing Alicia Silverstone looking out alluringly over sunglasses that have slipped down her nose, just as Kubrick did for Sue Lyon.

The most curious element in the movie, however, isn't her -- although Silverstone is both provocative and intelligent -- but the strange passive-aggressiveness of Cary Elwes, playing writer Nick Eliot, as the obscure object of her desire.

Elwes is a perfect choice for such a role. He's been appearing in big roles in mainstream films for years, without establishing much of a screen persona. He's different in every movie, facile but unmemorable.

Here his vagueness is particularly irritating but in some ways appropriate because it stands for his sexual ambivalence toward the young woman. He comes on to the girl in a way that allows just the hint of sexual aggression to peek through, while claiming innocence all the while, and then he backs out and pretends outrage. It's a good performance of an essentially despicable character. He may be the most worthless hero in movies in three or four years!

The story is standard cut-'em-up stuff, with her madness and violence increasing in each reel and his response escalating appropriately. It climaxes on a merry-go-round . . . in the attic. That last touch gives you an idea how absurd the whole proposition is.

MOVIE REVIEW

What: "The Crush."

Starring: Cary Elwes and Alicia Silverstone.

Directed by: Alan Shapiro.

Released by: Morgan Creek.

Rated: R.

Stars: *

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