Characters' fates cheapened in `Safety'

March 14, 2003|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Once upon a time - think of 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie - filmmakers could mount "anthology films": a handful of short tales linked by (if anything) an author, a genre or a recurring character or theme. The Safety of Objects might have been more piquant if the movie's writer-director, Rose Troche, had decided to film A.M. Homes' book of suburban short stories that way.

Instead, she divided the stories into their component pieces and erected a vast new Tinker Toy construction. Troche's movie interconnects the families of such distinct characters as a mother (Glenn Close) obsessed with her comatose son. A lawyer (Dermot Mulroney) who commutes to the city and suddenly realizes he knows nothing about the doings in his neighborhood (and house). A divorced woman (Patricia Clarkson) whose older child is kidnapped. And a restless wife (May Kay Place) determined to find new life either in or out of her marriage.

Troche withholds climaxes, epiphanies and punch lines that in the stories cleverly or poignantly cap a bunch of quirky situations and emotionally disheveled personalities. In the pursuit of greater punch and depth, Troche cheapens Homes' men, women and their fates. Imagine a three-ring circus made of Tinker Toy parts - or maybe Lego blocks - and filled solely with crying clowns. That's what you get in The Safety of Objects.

Close takes a break from doting on her near-dead son: She tries to prove she loves her daughter (Jessica Campbell), too, by entering a radio-sponsored win-a-car contest at a mall. (She promises the prize to the girl.) Mulroney, disillusioned with his lawyer job and seeking a new life-purpose, becomes Close's unofficial coach. And this axis of silliness may be the most persuasive instance in the entire movie of characters looking for solace and security in the material world and thus justifying the awful title. The most outre subplot focuses on a barely pubescent boy's sexual feelings for his sister's Barbie doll.

As part of a game of mix-and-match designed to unveil new kinks around every corner, the actors become human tokens and their intensity embarrassing. Indeed, some gifted and underused performers, like Robert Klein as Close's husband and Moira Kelly as Mulroney's wife, are here little more than placeholders.

Doubtless all were attracted by the movie's attempt to be a warmer, more open-ended indictment of suburbia than, say, American Beauty. Too bad. Despite this film's glint of perversity, its brief against the 'burbs is too general to buy. Don't cramped cities promote masturbation, voyeurism and the "objectification" of experience as much or more than suburbs?

The Safety of Objects is just another stilted comic-dramatic essay examining the mold in the white bread.

The Safety of Objects

Starring Glenn Close and Dermot Mulroney

Directed by Rose Troche

Released by IFC

Time 120 minutes

Rated R

Sun Score *1/2

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