`Goodbye Lover' doesn't fare well

April 16, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

What a mess.

Despite trying so hard to be equal parts "Fargo" and "Double Indemnity," "Goodbye Lover" succeeds only in being leaden. It's an unfunny black comedy and an unmoody film noir featuring one of the least enjoyable casts of characters in recent memory. And it's directed with great solemnity by Roland Joffe, who seems under the impression he's still making "The Killing Fields."

Patricia Arquette is Sandra, the movie's fatal femme, a blond dynamo with a wicked pair of legs and an even more wicked disposition. Dermot Mulroney is Jake, her loser of a husband, an alcoholic P.R. exec who specializes in being loud and obnoxious. Don Johnson (this guy still has a career?) is his brother, Ben, who opens the movie in the heat of passion with Sandra -- and he's supposed to be the beleaguered good guy. Mary-Louise Parker is Peggy, the virginal goody-two-shoes who so desperately wants Ben to love her.

The film's press materials beg us not to reveal who does what to whom, and far be it from me to fly in the face of such a fervent plea, other than to say they deserve everything that happens to them. And there's pretty much zero fun to be had watching it happen.

Joffe shoots everything as though this is the most solemnly important film ever made; everything's framed in screen-dwarfing close-up, the languorous pacing provides plenty of time to ponder the characters' utter banality, and the only bits of wit are such ham-fisted plot devices as making evil Sandra a huge "Sound of Music" fan (she even wears her hair a bit like Julie Andrews, har, har), and having Ellen DeGeneres, as a police detective who oozes cynicism from every pore, ask her straight-arrow Mormon partner if he's gay (you see, DeGeneres is gay, har, har, har).

In fact, DeGeneres is one of the film's few saving graces. Although her character is undercut by a script that substitutes foul language for clever dialogue, the part does allow her to stretch her screen persona beyond lightweight comedy. She and Arquette seem to be the only people even remotely having fun here, and that includes members of the theater audience.

Pub Date: 4/16/99

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