Copyright 1999-2002 3BlackChicks Enterprises™. All Rights Reserved.

3BlackChicks™ "Guest Starring" movie commentary
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Somerfleck's commentary on Eye Of The Beholder (1999)

Review Copyright David M. Somerfleck, 2002


Many younger film directors today either have contempt for the old masters or they just aren't cognizant of anyone who predates the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock might have been obnoxious egotists, but they knew their craft and prided themselves in the best they could create.

By contrast, Eye Of The Beholder is an obvious aspiration toward being an opus from Hitchcock's canon, only without Hitchcock's intelligence, wit or knowledge that with a lightweight script comes a lightweight contender.

For years, filmmakers have lusted after a marriage of creative quality with the drooling, leering and debasing soft porn that titillates movie-going audiences into plunking down their money for admission. Basic Instinct, came close, but no cigar (Freudian pun intended). Eye Of The Beholder is another attempt in this vein, and it is a film graced with all of the style and wit of Moe, Larry and Shemp trapped in a haunted house.

"A startling journey into obsession, the story of an intelligence agent so taken with a beautiful killer he cannot bear to apprehend her," so read the production notes; and if this little ditty sounds like something you've heard before, you're right. Try The Apartment, starring Gene Hackman, for starters.

At any rate (which isn't too high these days apparently), take that half-premise and add to that the "artistic stylings" of the visually adventurous writer-director Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), and you'd be fair-minded to expect a little cinematic braggadocio for its its own limp sake. Elliott's screenplay sounds like something only a prepubescent teenager lurching after his gonads could invent. Listen to this synopsis and tell me, is this screenwriter qualified to operate the tilt-a-whirl at the travelling carnival? Behold: "The Eye," the nameless and wretched agent who is such a hapless loner that he has no name (played by the mopey Ewan McGregor). Eye is a tortured British intelligence agent who blames himself for the deaths of his wife and daughter. Now he faces a new mission: tailing suspected blackmailer and murderer Joanna (Ashley Judd). Joanna is supposed to be so elusive, mysterious and haunting that the Eye eventually becomes a "hi-tech voyeur" in his effort to -ahem- nail his suspect.

This central conceit, in more adept hands, could have been a more interesting one: Pizza-faced McGregor plays a surveillance expert so overcome with his own self-pitying that he is disengaged from life, and is barely even a physical entity anymore (don't get me started on his acting). In his capacity of surveillance agent he's a professional voyeur lurking behind a wall of gadgetry. We never even learn his real name, and it's clear he'll never achieve emeritus status in the Player's Club.

Despite Eye's unbearable loss, he is pulled back into reality when he becomes obsessed with the serial killer (Judd), whom he'd been assigned to watch and report on. Joanna, the killer, of course, also has a void in her soul (and in her mind as well, as Judd depicts her). Even though the Eye is more out of touch with reality than a mindless stoner hooked up to a Turkish skullbong, he senses a connection.

Eye follows Joanna's bloody trail across the country, listening to her conversations, spying on her in her bedroom (pant, pant), even watching her kill people. He protects her from capture by the police, biding his time until he can make his presence known to her.

Other than the central plot, there are more than a few implausibilities as well, that careen off of each other: To make us empathize with Judd's identity-shifting killer, we're provided with several ridiculous rationales for her psychotic development. Next, when Eye finally reenters the physical world, creeping like a nascent caterpillar out of his high-tech cocoon, this disembodied voyeur becomes suddenly quite proficient with guns and his fists.

Writer-director Elliott also uses several dubious narrative devices disjointedly. In one instance, he turns a character from Eye's past, who is such a distortion that the character's essentially a figment of his imagination, into a physical presence who talks to him and moves in and out of scenes. This dramatic device worked well in The Hurricane, but that was because it was helmed by a great director (Norman Jewison), and a talented actor (Denzel Washington), who both had a strong story to justify its use. Here, it's just a royal pain that could easily confound someone not taking notes, or someone falling asleep (as I almost did, several times).

Elliott suddenly drops the gambit-scenario about the Eye, which merely underscores how contrived and unnecessary it was to start with. He compensates by being literal and heavy-handed. Elliot, the director and writer, wants us to know that Eye has become a twisted sort of guardian angel to the character Judd plays, so Elliott plants angel statuary and the word "angel" all over the place. Then, for the freshly-lobotomized in the audience, he has Judd spell it out in dialogue.Elliot also like to compensate for the weak story by using pop songs to tell the audience what they should be feeling. Several times he sticks a pop song on the soundtrack to instruct us in just what the scene playing out on screen has just shown us and what it means.

Elliott also undercuts the themes he seems to be trying to express: McGregor's character has lost a daughter, Judd's has lost a father. Hey, they've got a lot in common! I like to write and I love classical music, but it doesn't mean that I'd want to protect Hannibal Lechter.

Adapted from the novel by Marc Behm, Eye Of The Beholder attempts psychological thriller status, but as so often occurs, the filmmakers are more interested in cheap thrills and the lure of easy bucks than psychology, in mock-sensation over credibility and depth. This cheap flick could have shimmered and seduced like Vertigo, but instead, it simply Slivers away like the snake in the grass that it is.

Rated R, for some poorly-choreagraphed violence, vague sexuality, juvenile language and enough drug content to make crack look like Sanka.

Untalented Ewan McGregor: Eye
Obdurate Ashley Judd: Joanna
Scary Patrick Bergin: Alex
Yawn-inducing Genevieve Bujold: Dr. Brault
(should stick to singing) k.d. lang: Hilary
Jason (90210) Priestley: Gary
Director and screenplay culprit Stephan Elliott. Running time: 1 hour, 50 boring minutes.

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