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Alexandra DuPont ponders the EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

Harry here with another review from that well-worded goddess from the world of Talk Back... Yes, that's right. It be Alexandra DuPont, again rapping on our chamber monitors. That rare and radiant maiden that the angels named... ummm... Alexandra DuPont. Here she allowed the EYE OF THE BEHOLDER to rake it's sharpened fingernails across her blackboard eyes... causing her to clench her teeth and ignite this kindling of an effort down below. Enjoy...

Alexandra DuPont reviews EYE OF THE BEHOLDER, starring Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd

Toujours, Harry. Alexandra DuPont here. Following is my review of “Eye of the Beholder,” a pretentious spy thriller/commentary-on-voyeurism-or-male-hegemony-or-something from writer-director Stephen Elliott (“Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”). You might want to post the following at your site, as “Eye” will initially intrigue our fellow geeks -- due to its lead (Ewan McGregor), its high-tech gadgetry, and the murderous, miniskirted form of Ashley Judd.

I don’t really enjoy torpedoing artistically ambitious efforts, but this film just didn’t deliver for me, and I don’t think it will deliver for many other people, be they Bond-loving bubbas or art-house niche-dwellers. “Eye of the Beholder” reminds me of the Wim Wenders films I used to have to watch in film class, but in the worst possible sense: It takes all the plot-murkiness, locale-compression and oddball casting of “The American Friend” and “Until the End of the World” (both of which I liked, BTW) while leaving out their sense of whimsy. The result is mildly infuriating. Here’s the breakdown:

BUT FIRST, THE ATTACHED TRAILER AT THE SCREENING WAS: an apparently comic whodunit titled “Drowning Mona,” starring Bette Midler as an evil piece a’ white trash who dies, leaving Neve Campbell, Will Ferrell, Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, and William Fitchner in her wake. From the trailer -- which, as we all know, is hardly indicative of the final product -- this looked like a rather forcibly “quirky” small-town mystery, with L.A. actors once again condescending to the masses with their portrayals of trailer trash. My eight bucks will go elsewhere, barring an excellent review (though Mssr. Fitchner, as always, looked interesting).

THE STORY: I’ll quote the plot summary from the film’s promotional materials, which sums up “Eye of the Beholder” so luridly and wrong-headedly as to merit study. My comments -- you know, for clarity -- are interspersed in brackets:

“Eye of the Beholder is a [not particularly] startling journey into obsession [actually, Ewan’s pretty obsessed from the get-go] -- the story of an intelligence agent so [rather ludicrously] taken with a beautiful killer that he cannot bear to apprehend her [though I’m sure the many men she kills with Ewan watching would really rather he had]. Set in the surreal [provided ‘surreal’ means ‘illogical’] world of a high-tech voyeur, the tale follows him across the country [with confusing abruptness] as he embarks on a desperate quest [that he could have voluntarily ended at any time after the first twenty minutes] for this enigmatic [meaning she changes her wigs a great deal] femme fatale.

“Ewan McGregor stars as The Eye [well, as Stephen Wilson, but ‘The Eye’ sounds cooler in PR], a lonely, isolated British intelligence agent who has lost both his wife and daughter, for which he blames himself [in the form of having the ‘ghost’ of his daughter annoyingly ever-present, singing songs and playing with clattering toys]. The Eye’s current mission is to track Joanna Eris (Ashley Judd), a woman suspected of blackmailing the son of a senior British official. But Eris is far more than a blackmailer....”

I must interject here. The following summary of Judd’s character, also taken from the PR materials, is sort of a masterpiece of the form -- lurid and trashily beautiful:

“She is a seductive, shadowy master of disguises, a frenzied murderer, a lost orphan and an abject mystery whose rage is as fierce as her beauty.”

Whew. I need a cigarette.

BUT ALEXANDRA, THAT ACTUALLY SOUNDS PRETTY COOL: Yes, but what the evil PR people fail to tell you, fellow geeks, is that this tale is not a sexy spy story, but rather a Surrealist Artistic Statement Made by Australians and Canadians. This means, in part, that a great deal of story logic is gone, the characters have choppy and/or infuriating motivations, and the film is full of artsy tropes: sniping from a church belltower, religious and pagan iconography, obvious metaphors in the dialogue, and -- get this -- the thematic use of a blind man in a movie about voyeurism. Isn’t it ironic?

Make no mistake -- I enjoy some artsy with my fartsy. (My favorite Woody Allen film is STARDUST MEMORIES, for pity’s sake). But “Eye of the Beholder” is the worst sort of art film, because it’s half-assed about it -- a sort of pretentious bland ambition.

WELL, HOW’S EWAN? He’s good. It’s refreshing to see a leading man unafraid of changing his posture and tone of voice to play a wimpy little dweeb who can’t find the testosterone to simply arrest this woman, get her some help, and then MAYBE ask her on a date after some much-needed therapy instead of following her around like a limping puppy with fiber optics and actually screwing up her attempts at redemption at least once.... Oh, sorry. Guess my compliment’s a bit double-edged, isn’t it?

AND ASHLEY JUDD? A very handsome woman, and more nuanced in her performance as the film goes on. But at the beginning, as she’s playing out this sort of femme fatale cliché, she adopts a rather unappealing monotone, so that she comes across more like one of those “whatever” girls who taunted you lads in high school -- albeit a “whatever” girl who stabs and shoots men and then howls, “Merry Christmas, Daddy!” afterward. I don’t believe this failure is Judd’s fault, actually: The role is so all-over-the-place on the page (YOU try playing a homicidal abandoned-child/truck-stop waitress/wigmaker sometime) that underplaying was probably the only sensible choice. Still, a crucial plot screw -- that this woman is so intriguing that it would make Ewan ignore whatever intelligence bureau he works for -- is not properly turned.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT THE MOVIE? ANYTHING? It’s always interesting to see a foreigner’s take (a la Wenders) on America. Cities blend together, and people in crowds are given the “foreign treatment,” which I can’t really describe save to say that foreigners photograph us Yanks differently and a startling number of us, apparently, drink cognac and smoke Gitanes. Some of the shots -- particularly a car doing a brody into a lake -- are rather dreamy to behold. Plus, there’s a sort of surreal thrill in all the furious locale-changing. I mean, it’s RIDICULOUS: It’s like five minutes from the desert to Boston to Alaska, with Judd changing wigs left and right. And there are some cool scene transitions involving snowglobes that feel like what might result if Russell Mulcahy in his “Highlander” prime had photographed “Citizen Kane.”

WHAT’S THE WORST THING ABOUT THE FILM? Oh, that’s got to be a tie:

(1) Jason Priestly (!) doing one of those “quirky,” changed-haircut character performances that leading men sometimes do when they’re “stretching their craft.” He plays a drug-abusing sadistic white-trash attempted rapist who shaves his face but not his neck. (Incidentally, you can tell this film was written by an Aussie because at one point Priestly’s hick character says, “Piss off!”)

(2) Also, there’s the following exchange of dialogue:

Ashley Judd: “An expert -- how fortunate.”
Lothario who’s hitting on her: “Absolutely-tutely.”

Again, you have been warned.

Alexandra DuPont.

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