Bruce Willis stumbles around in the 'Night,' constantly in the dark

August 19, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

In "Color of Night," Bruce Willis makes the most pugnacious, irritable therapist in the annals of psychotherapy. He thinks he's still in "Die Hard": Tell him your dreams and he'll punch your teeth out.

Willis' unsuitability is merely the most obvious difficulty in what is a very troubled movie. Meant to be a steamy erotic thriller, it's more annoying than anything else. Surely you will see its Big Surprise coming by the first 15 minutes, and it never begins to achieve the kind of sultry, mesmerizing fascination it so desperately needs.

Willis plays Dr. Bill Capa, a New York psychotherapist. In the movie's ludicrous opening moments, he is unsympathetic to a patient who not merely stiffs him on her bill but chooses the moment to take a swan dive out a window. Ker-plunk. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Shaken, he leaves Manhattan to recoup with a friend (Scott Bakula) in L.A.

But Bakula has problems of his own. Another psychotherapist, he's also the best-selling author of a bland self-help book ("Way to Go," one of the movie's few genuinely witty strokes); he's been getting death threats of late and his life has become one paranoid roller coaster. His mansion is a fortress, and his fears seem to revolve around the Monday night group, a psychotherapy session in which one of the neurotics is actually a psychotic.

By Minute 8 of the movie, he's Swiss cheese. The investigating detective, played by an overbearing Ruben Blades, asks Willis to continue the sessions to smoke out the killer.

But this thriller, like so many, is set in Stupidland, not America. How can you tell? Well, stupid things keep happening and nobody notices. For one, an incredibly beautiful young woman -- Jane March, of "The Lover" -- strenuously inserts herself into his life, his shower and his bed. It never occurs to him that she might be related to the group as a whole and the murder specifically. He just think he deserves it, I suppose.

In another remarkably moronic sequence, someone tries to kill Willis by ramming a parked car on a rooftop garage, knocking it over the side to crush him. Duh: The driver of the ramming vehicle could not have seen Willis on the ground. It's gaffes like this that make the film difficult to endure.

The stupidities add up. The film turns on a disguise that involves one person in intimate contact with several others over many months -- hiding gender, body type, sexual orientation and personality from them. Impossible! Absurd! Hokey, unless of course you view reality through a movie lens, where the angles are picked for you assiduously to obscure the fraud.

Richard Rush, a director with a vivid cult reputation for "The Stunt Man" of 14 years ago, returns to the screen for the first time since then and it's clear that he's forgotten a great deal.

For one thing, Rush appears to have forgotten all he knew about directing actors. How else would he have let Blades and Lesley Ann Warren, as one of the group members, go so far over the top. Blades attacks the camera like a rabid dog, shouting and ranting and completely destroying the rhythm of the scenes he's in. He thinks the movie's about him. Warren plays a deeply disturbed woman -- a callow, sex-obsessed Los Angeles beauty -- with great intensity but no moderation or guidance. She displays so many annoying vocal and visual tics she becomes almost impossible to bear.

Worst of all, the film never develops much suspense. The movie has no over-arching metaphor to organize it: It's not really about an investigation. We have no sense of poor Willis dealing with the mystery, sifting through the possibilities, narrowing choices. He seems to wander along numbly, missing clues that we're picking up on, just passively waiting for the next plot twist. He never learns anything; he "solves" it simply, in the late going, by finding a revelatory photograph.

But what if he hadn't? Since there's no principle of solution other than random chance, the movie would still be going on! "Color of Night" would not have yielded to rosy-fingered dawn.

"Color of Night"

Starring Bruce Willis and Jane March

Directed by Richard Rush

Released by Hollywood Pictures

Rated R

**

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