Skip to main content

They're from the planet Bantar, aren't they Isaac?


Final Analysis
(1992)

(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.

**


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984) If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights  may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box ’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisi

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

You cut my head off a couple of dozen times.

Boss Level (2021) (SPOILERS) Lest you thought it was nigh-on impossible to go wrong with a Groundhog Day premise, Joe Carnahan, in his swaggering yen for overkill, very nearly pulls it off with Boss Level . I’m unsure quite what became of Carnahan’s early potential, but he seems to have settled on a sub-Tarantino, sub-Bay, sub-Snyder, sub-Ritchie butch bros aesthetic, complete with a tin ear for dialogue and an approach to plotting that finds him continually distracting himself, under the illusion it’s never possible to have too much. Of whatever it is he’s indulging at that moment.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef