Clever casting can't redeem awful 'Mother's Boys'

May 18, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

There's nothing more dispiriting than watching first-class talents try to breathe life into third-rate material. Sadly, that's the only thing on the screen at the UA Westview where a surprisingly good cast -- Vanessa Redgrave as "Grandma"! -- is wasting its time in the bizarre "Mother's Boys."

Basically, the movie takes the plot of "Fatal Attraction" and reverses the values of the two women characters. The mom is now the psycho villain and the girlfriend the stalwart heroine. But they're fighting over . . . Peter Gallagher?

Gallagher is certainly no Michael Douglas, and I don't even like Michael Douglas. He's a young architect married to a wealthy but clearly pathological young woman played by Jamie Lee Curtis who, after having given birth to her third son, has abruptly abandoned the family.

Gallagher has coped as best he could; now, three years later, he's engaged to the assistant principal (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) at the posh private school the kids attend and has achieved some normalcy. Enter cuckoo mama, who will stop at nothing to get her family back.

The most interesting thing in the film is the cleverness in the casting. Curtis and Whalley-Kilmer not only play opposite sides of the moral spectrum, but they represent opposite interpretations of the ideal of female beauty. Curtis is all hard angles and planes; her face has the appearance of a Mondrian abstraction. She's almost naturally stylized, and the director, Yves Simoneau, loves to photograph her backlit, in silhouette, advancing down long, majestic corridors.

Whalley-Kilmer, on the other hand, is amazingly round and soft and a far more maternal presence. She has gigantic calf's eyes that seem to brim with compassion and innocence, and her face is almost moon-goddess-like in its serenity. As visual motifs, the two women's faces lend the movie a coherence its plot cannot otherwise muster.

It's difficult to understand why and how "Mother's Boys" got made. Its most disturbing theme is incest and the sexual corruption of children by their mother. The movie merely throws this number up to further convince us that Curtis is nuts, as if we don't get that from the scene where she smashes herself in the head with a picture. But it's entirely too heavy an idea for so frivolous a usage. Worse, it forces us to watch a scene where she climbs from the tub to seduce her oldest boy -- about 10 -- into joining her "team" against usurper Whalley-Kilmer.

That accomplished, he becomes mother's little helper and keeps pushing people down the steps or handcuffing them or otherwise physically jeopardizing them. At one point, the movie jerks us about restlessly with the specter of a traumatized child who may bleed to death if help is not forthcoming. Using a child's dwindling blood supply as a kind of basketball timer to juice up the tension seems grotesque.

And there's really no tension. The three good spooks in "Mother's Boys" are only the old it's-only-a-dream! shock. Finally, the last few minutes become almost comically farcical as they shunt the players about on a dark and windy road, over cliffs, in and out of dangling cars.

MOVIE REVIEW

"Mother's Boys"

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer

Directed by Yves Simoneau

Released by Dimension

R-rated

*

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