Pulling punches

'Enough' is too much, as Jennifer Lopez's domestic-abuse thriller manipulates the audience.

May 24, 2002|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

SUN SCORE

* 1/2 (one-half star)

The saga of a brutalized housewife in Enough should make you feel as if you've lived a thousand lifetimes. Instead it makes you feel as if you've lived through a thousand Lifetime channel movies.

A couple of unusually prestigious names to be associated with a formula revenge thriller, director Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter, Enigma) and screenwriter Nicholas Kazan (Reversal of Fortune), have emerged with a generic woman-in-jeopardy flick that jumps to life only with a smack-down ending that leaves female viewers stomping their approval and males checking to see if all their equipment is still attached.

Take one plucky waitress named Slim (Jennifer Lopez), give her a tall, rich and handsome husband named Mitch (Billy Campbell), reveal him to be a well-turned-out Neanderthal who thinks he has the right to stray since he pays the bills, and you've got the setup.

Most of the movie is a primer on the evolution of a sadistic husband: With too much testosterone churning, he can turn from smug domestic boss to brutal jailer; if he hits once he'll hit a second time, and so on to murder; if he sees his wife and daughter as his possessions, he'll never let go; and if the wife is foolish enough not to call the cops, she'll have to figure out some other way of loosening his hold. All this is news to Slim, who must never watch Lifetime. She's as exaggeratedly naive as Mitch is exaggeratedly evil.

The filmmakers try to dress up their bare-bones scenario, adorning short, jumpy sequences with chapter headings like "How They Met" and "Conquering Hero" and "More Than Enough." But using such a cute gimmick on such a stick-figure piece of dramaturgy backfires: It's as if the index cards flew off their script-development board and landed on the screen.

Noah Wyle, in a trick part, shows aspects of his talent he can't display on ER, but the rest of the supporting cast - Juliette Lewis as the obligatory wised-up waitress pal, Dan Futterman as Slim's ex-boyfriend and Fred Ward as her estranged millionaire father - have little to do except appear when Slim needs help.

The movie is about to make you cry Uncle! or maybe Aunt! Then Slim decides to control her own destiny and submit to an Israeli martial-arts discipline called Krav Maga. Under the tutelage of a huge man with a voice that curls down her spine, she learns how to think aggressively and sharpen her reflexes and move like a well-oiled piston. Will the movie use its new power for the forces of cinematic good? No, but at least it stays gripping through the unabashedly exploitative, nastily gratifying finale.

It would be heartwarming to report that the final act is rousing because Lopez finally gets to be the physically commanding and intensely focused individual she has trouble concealing beneath Slim's victim-housewife veneer. But it's mainly because Mitch, after terrorizing her and her friends mercilessly, has decided to start a court battle for their daughter - and Slim intends to bring her own meaning to the phrase "custody fight."

The audience responds as if cheering the heroine and villain of a wrestling bout or of one of those latter-day Mummy movies. Even men can go along with it. Since Mitch is such a caricature, they can think, "We're not like him." But shouldn't the filmmakers feel some guilt about reducing complex issues to the black and white of a blood fantasy? The heroine prides herself on keeping her daughter from being "tainted," but everyone connected to Enough should feel a little soiled.

Enough

Starring Jennifer Lopez and Billy Campbell

Directed by Michael Apted

Rated PG-13

Released by Sony Pictures

Running time 114 minutes

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