(SPOILERS) Richard Gere and his tiny, tiny eyes. An invitation not to see a movie if ever there was one. And yet he endures. Often he seems barely awake. In Phil Joanou’s busy but unengaging Hitchcock homage he occasionally signals his alertness by studiously blinking, like a mole under a UV lamp. I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d seen this movie before, and even the wave of familiarity that washed over me as I viewed it left me confused; was I feeling this purely because it is so derivative?
Final Analysis was released in the same year as Basic Instinct. Both films are throwbacks to the slow burn noir thrillers of the ‘40s and ‘50s, and both update the formula with lashings of sex and violence. Curiously, both are also set in San Francisco. Basic Instinct succeeds because Paul Verhoeven embraces the silliness of his script (Joe Esterhaz was never the most subtle of writers) and makes his result as insanely exaggerated as possible. He’s inviting the audience to laugh along with the ride. Joanou is working from a screenplay by Wesley Strick (Robert Berger has a story credit also) and, while it frequently verges on self-parody, it’s far too straight-faced in execution to be intentional. Strick was on a hot streak at the time, following Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake (the very definition of over-the-top, but as mechanically made as his later Shutter Island), but his script is shamelessly formulaic.
Top shrink (Isaac Barr, played by ol’ gimlet eyes) embarks on an affair with the sister (Kim Basinger’s Heather) of a troubled patient (Uma Thurman as Diana). Heather’s hubby (Eric Roberts) is a mobster/property developer and all-round Mr. Bastard. When Heather kills him during a fight, apparently suffering from pathological intoxication, Isaac does all he can to get her off the hook. But then he begins to have doubts about her motives.
Analysis is about as subtle with its appropriation of Freudian psychology as Hitchcock’s ridiculous (but entertaining) Spellbound. The difference is that the former was made nearly 50 years later, when no one was much buying into unfiltered Freudian analysis any more. Strick clearly recognises this; he has a lecturer convincingly demolish Sigmund for his lack of insight into the female mind; it’s one of the few scenes that suggests anything other than a stock configuration of the psychological thriller. Diana constantly undercuts Isaac’s therapy by giving smart-arse suggestions of his likely reading of her condition; it’s screaming out that the method is dated and unworkable. This theme is embodied in Isaac himself, the Freudian analyst; he is revealed as a ready dupe who falls hook, line and sinker for the scheme concocted by the two sisters.
But if Joanou appreciates any of this, he doesn’t show it. He seems preoccupied with capturing the picture’s fake-noir a style, engaging with shots rather than plot. The result (partly a fault of the structure, in fairness) is a stop-start pace that fails to intrigue. Joanou is best known for his U2 tour documentary, Rattle and Hum. His features have been inconsequential affairs save for the underrated Irish mob drama State of Grace. Final Analysis might have worked, but only with a different person calling the shots. Verhoeven could have pumped up the sex scenes and revelled in the absurdity. Or Brian De Palma; there’s enormous potential here for split screen and excessively staged set pieces (he would have adored the trading of places between the not-really-very-much-alike-at-all Basinger and Thurman). Better still, he’d have made the cod-psychology as funny as it is in Dressed to Kill. Reportedly, John Boorman had considered directing. God knows why.
Joanou clumsily telegraphs the twists and turns. He tips his hat so badly, you wonder if it’s wilful self-sabotage. He needs to hoodwink the viewer at very least, but he clearly didn’t probe Strick’s plot for holes. Such as, why didn’t the prosecution build their case around the convenient death of Roberts’ brother (who stood to inherit his estate before Heather)? Isaac learns of this not insignificant nugget after the trial. Does no one do basic investigation any more? And the scene where Heather is fooled into thinking two doctors are from the DA’s office requires ludicrous circumstances to succeed (which I guess is why it does). The trial itself is involving, but I’m a sucker for a trial scene; nevertheless, the collapse of the expert testimony from Dr. Grusin (Rita Zohar) involves the same kind of narrative incompetence just mentioned. Gere also appears to be incredibly unprofessional, talking about his patient’s mental health to others at the drop of a hat.
It’s easy to see why Basinger took the part; it gave her the chance to play bad. But she has none of the alpha-female poise that Sharon Stone gave Catherine Trammell. Indeed, the movie boasts a resoundingly B-movie cast (neither Gere nor Kim exactly pack out theatres). And neither of the leads have the wit to work with the nonsense Strick has served up. Gere is so unfussed, he doesn’t even blink (actually, maybe he blinks) at a line like “He looks at shoes. I look at people’s thoughts”. Uma is more engaging than her co-stars, but her character is sketchy and inconsistent.
So it’s a relief that a couple of players get the tone just right. Roberts oozes malevolence; Gere’s kidding no one when he stands his ground during an encounter in the gents (where he, wait for it… blinks). But the star of the show is Keith David as Detective Huggins, who spends the entire film looking pissed off with Gere and rightly so. His tone of abject disdain is a treat, and he relishes his graceless dialogue (“Don’t yank my dick!”).
I tend to think that it was a foolish move to automate lighthouses; they hold so much atmospheric potential as a movie setting. Analysis completely squanders this, throwing in sub-par effects shots and the very clumsy set up of a loose guardrail outside the lantern room. The storm-lashed climax is utterly generic, and is followed by a silly gag about dating Heather’s sister. Even worse is the coda showing that Diana as a future husband slayer (“Maybe just one sip”). Strick was probably ask to come up with a Hannibal Lecter moment, but should have known better. The same is true of the whole movie really.
The one interesting part of Final Analysis, besides the splendour that is Keith David, is its similarity to this year’s Side Effects. In both movies a psychopathic female inveigles a doctor (one of medicine, one of psychology) into defending her case of spousal murder by reason of temporary insanity. In both cases the plea results from substance abuse (prescription medicine, alcohol). In both cases another woman aids the female antagonist in her plot. In both cases the antagonist is found not guilty but held for observation. In both cases the doctor gets wise to her scheme and pulls the rug from under her, making it appear that she really is loopy. The difference is, Heather escapes her cage in time for the showdown. Oh, and Steven Sodebergh made a much niftier little thriller.