'Bodies, Rest & Motion': These physics make no quantum leaps

May 07, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Movies have been based on books and comic strips and real life and even magazine articles, but "Bodies, Rest & Motion" may Movies have been based on books and comic strips and real life and even magazine articles, but "Bodies, Rest & Motion" may be the first to be derived from one of Newton's Laws of Motion. That law -- the Big No. 1 maintaining that a body at rest tends to remain at rest and a body in motion remains in motion -- describes the fates of a set of Generation X layabouts, mall rats, underemployed connoisseurs of boredom in a mythical Sun Belt city.

Alas, the movie ignores Newton's Third Law of Motion, which states that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. As it plays out here, that translates to: If you make a boring movie, people will leave the theater.

Physics aside, "Bodies, Rest & Motion" paints an infinitely depressing picture of a generation without goals, which, by way of compensation, has developed an obsessive concentration on its relationships. The movie is a relationship-o-rama, a do-si-do of shifting expectations and alliances among a small group that expects satisfactions only from its friends, never from abstract accomplishments like career or art or even self-expression. They seem not to have much of an inner life, but neither do they have an outer life. They exist only in now.

Carol and Beth have been listlessly alternating as lover and mother-confessor to Nick; as the movie starts, it appears that Beth is the sex-giver and Carol the attention-giver, though that situation is fragile and could change at any moment. In fact, director Michael Steinberg begins with a deft bit of misdirection that suggests the fragility of the bonds here: We find Carol and Nick in each other's arms, drinking and smoking, in what seems to be a postcoital bliss. But when Beth arrives, only then is it clear that Nick and Carol are no longer sleeping together and that Carol is now Beth's best friend. It helps to have a score card to tell these ballplayers apart, if you care, and you probably won't.

Both Carol and Beth, it must be said, are extremely interesting and attractive young women, played by Phoebe Cates and Bridget Fonda. That gets to the movie's central enigma and the one thing that keeps it from beginning to work: their mutual and intense attraction to the extremely irritating Tim Roth as Nick. Why him?

It would make some sense if Roth were one of those men bristling with charisma, with power, with confidence; if he had the magic ability, given so few, to dominate a room or a camera lens by the sheer electricity of his charge.

To be sure, in the English phase of his career (he's actually a Cockney), Roth demonstrated that. He was a fiery Vincent van Gogh in Robert Altman's "Vincent & Theo" and a tough little runt of a gunman in Stephen Frears' "The Hit." Even as recently as last year with "Reservoir Dogs" he was extremely interesting. But . . . Earth to planet Tim. Wake up, bud, or it'll be over!

In this one (and also in a drab performance in an ABC movie "Starkweather: Murder in the Heartland") he seems utterly at sea: His Nick is a sullen self-pitier, lacking wit or vitality. He hides behind two hanks of hair that are forever cascading forward to obscure his eyes, and his response to everything is apt to be a sneer of contempt. I found it impossible to believe in this central tissue of relationship, which is in fact the tissue of the story. The plot, what little of it there is, is set into motion when Nick decides to move to "Butte, Montana, the city of the future." Why? Why not? Obediently, Beth begins to pack, while Nick, ever the body in motion, impulsively takes off to find his parents who reportedly live in a nearby town (he isn't sure). This deeply angers Beth.

Meanwhile, Sid the painter (Eric Stoltz), starts to flirt with Beth, and ultimately, she sleeps with him. He falls in love with her. Nick, in a depression because he couldn't find his parents, comes home. But Beth has already left, now determined to run her own life. Then it's Sid who goes after her. Meanwhile, Nick and Carol begin to look at each other appreciatively again.

Essentially what's happened is that each has moved over one notch in the great cosmic table of contents of partner assignment. This may seem ultimately insignificant, and it is. However, it is perhaps unfair to approach "Bodies, Rest & Motion" strictly as a drama. It is, far more passionately and more convincingly, a generational anthem, aimed with a bombardier's strategic precision at those in their late 20s and early 30s, the baby boom stragglers who will bitterly have to do more with less. They will find it as profound as their elder brothers found "Catch-22" and "Harold & Maude." And then when they are in their 40s, they will be embarrassed but fondly nostalgic.

"Bodies, Rest & Motion"

Starring Tim Roth, Bridget Fonda, Phoebe Cates and Eric Stoltz.

Directed by Michael Steinberg.

Released by Fine Line.

Rated R.

... **

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