Great chemistry solves mysteries Movie review: 'Unforgettable' makes you think twice about really big needles.

February 23, 1996|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,SUN STAFF

Linda Fiorentino as a good girl!

She's just one of the surprises in "Unforgettable," a violent, creepy thriller in which Fiorentino, the ultimate femme fatale in "The Last Seduction," co-stars with Ray Liotta.

John Dahl, who also directed "Seduction," keeps the twists coming in a pretty twisted story, contrived but entertaining. Liotta stars as a medical examiner who is obsessed with solving his wife's murder -- especially since he was arrested for the crime and, although the charges were dismissed, is still assumed to be the killer.

That's one of the bits of information that Bill Geddie's screenplay lets slip as the movie grinds along; unlike so many mysteries, it doesn't set everything up at the beginning. The film's subtle and continual disclosures are ultimately why, despite a sometimes obvious progression of events, it works.

As Dr. David Krane, Liotta is called to a gory crime scene as the movie opens, a massacre in a convenience store. A vital piece of evidence there convinces him that the shooter is the same man who killed his wife.

Conveniently, he meets Fiorentino, who plays a slightly awkward but plucky scientist who may help him find answers. She conveys a winning sense of innocence -- a complete and amusing turnaround from her nasty role in "The Last Seduction."

Her character brings an admittedly preposterous sci-fi kick to the story: She's discovered a way to transfer memories by taking cerebral spinal fluid from one rat, mixing it with a chemical cocktail and injecting it into another. When Dr. Krane learns of her work, he's convinced it's the way for him to discover the truth, because the same fluid is taken from every corpse that passes through his office.

Two things make the memory-transfer process excruciating to watch: One, he's using really big needles with uncertain and scary results (squirm, squirm, squirm!), and two, the formula can cause heart damage, which the doc ignores as he relentlessly runs all over Seattle pursuing answers and dodging bullets.

What one wonders is why he doesn't try a little conventional investigation in between the dangerous injections.

The memory transfer recalls "Brainstorm," but this movie is not really science fiction. Rather, it's a traditional mystery that calls on familiar police-drama formulas. We're introduced to all possible suspects and, slowly, as the facts reveal themselves, Liotta homes in on the solution. He's no refined, methodical detective, though: While he's in mortal peril, he strongly conveys his emotional agony, as he torments himself with memories of his bad behavior during his marriage and his longing for his dead wife and for his kids, who were taken away from him.

The flaw in the mystery may be in its good casting; it's almost a rule that when an interesting actor is in a minor role, the character is going to become more central by story's end. Maybe you want to stop reading here, before you learn that the intriguing supporting cast includes, in alphabetical order, Kim Cattrall, Peter Coyote and Christopher McDonald. Not that we're giving anything away.

'Unforgettable'

Starring Ray Liotta and Linda Fiorentino

Directed by John Dahl

Released by MGM

Rated R (gore, violence, language and one naked, ugly corpse)

Sun score ***

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