Mike's Murder Directed by James Bridges. At the Harvard Square Theatre and Sack Copley Place
IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT that you're a movie director looking to make money. Now imagine that a movie that brought its audience to fears and garnered all sorts of academy awards--including best actress--featured that young, attractive, and until then, fairly unknown actress. Oh yes. And imagine that she excels in crying.
If you're capable of visualizing all of that, then you'll probably have little trouble understanding all the promotional hype behind Debra Winger's latest film. Mike's Murder. And, if you happened to see Terms of Endearment, you can probably surmise what talent--if any--she brings to the production. What you might have trouble understanding after seeing the film though is, career and financial opportunism aside, why anyone would support this movie.
It isn't so much that the acting is awful, although none of the cast. Winger included--manages to shine. Not is it really that the film lacks the necessary element of suspense, though it often seems sluggish and predictable. What's really disturbing about Mike's Murder is that as hard as it tries to say something, the film never really says anything at all.
Director James Bridges might have avoided some of the blame for the film's failure if he wasn't also responsible for the film's disastrous screenplay. Taken together, however, both demonstrate a serious artistic ineptitude. While Bridges may have intended to create a film to shock his viewers into an awareness of the precarious, decadent lifestyle of drug addicts and criminals, he never successfully carries it off. Instead, the film founders on a precarious limb of its own, never quite certain what its message is or why its even bothers to exist.
The basic problem with Mike's Murder is its lack of focus. Although Winger gradually does garner the spotlight in a tension-filled scene towards the movie's climax, it is never entirely clear just who the protagonist of this film is. Moreover, it it's blood and flesh you're looking for in addition to tears. Mike's Murder is simply not the place to find it. Aside from several semi-suggestive scenes in which Winger lounges in a bubble bath (covered with bubbles, incidentally) and Mike fantasizes about making love to her over the phone, the film is as far a cry from eroticism as one can get.
Though the film does arouse occasional suspense, little is left to the viewer's imagination. Betty (Winger) and Mike (Mark Keyloun), two ex-lovers, attempt to rekindle a romance that blossomed while Mike was Betty's tennis instructor. Meanwhile, Mike and his friend Pete (Darreli Larson) while away the hours getting stoned, causing trouble, and ultimately in Mike's case, losing his life. An outraged bewildered Betty decides to find out who was responsible, and as she does, slowly puts together the tragic pieces of Mike's life.
The intertwined stories of the relationship between Mike and Betty and Mike's racy life in the fast lane could have added dimension to the fairly straightforward plot line. The problem, though, is that even after Mike has been murdered by cocaine dealers, the disparate stories never truly connect. How Betty's being a bank teller, for example, relates to Mike's being chased by thugs is never clear, and the connection between the parties Betty's pseudo-intellectual boyfriend Richard (Daniel Shor) gives and her relationship with Mike is even less lucid.
EQUALLY PROBLEMATIC is the film's notable lack of character development. Most of the characters are one dimensional, performing gratuitous actions without motivation. Why Mike chooses, for example, to play white slave to a decadent Black homosexual remains a mystery, as does most of his entire background. Similarly, though we know through rather maudlin and visibly contrived snippets on the tennis courts that Mike is Betty's former instructor, we never learn what, other than physical attraction, bonds them together.
When the characters do occasionally reveal motivations, they seem illogical and improbable. Why, for example, after months of being involved in another relationship, is Betty suddenly moved to sit by the phone on a Saturday night awaiting. Mike's habitually non-existent phone calls? Similarly, if Mike truly feels something for Betty, why is he unable to free himself of a lifestyle that chronically gets him in trouble?
Of the numerous confessionals in the film, the only one which nears full development is Pete's. In one of the movie's few captivating scenes, in which a crazed and doped out Pete threatens to kill Betty, Bridges gives us a fleeting glimpse into the terror and paranoia that plague Phillip throughout the film. However, because we know so little about him aside from his penchant for snorting cocaine, the scene seems somehow out of place.
The absence of stimulating conversation adds to the film's clumsy, amateur appearance. Most of the dialogue is either narrative or banal, offering little insight into the characters as people. When the characters are occasionally developed. Bridges resorts to stereotypes. Mike carries around a black book with names of available women; Betty's erudite and artsy boyfriend quotes platitudes like "The ephemeral is the eternal"; and when Mike promises Betty "This time I'll call and come," she can't resist responding wittily "last time you called and came."
Were the film to explore some of the issues it raises in detail rather than merely presenting them to the audience. Mike's Murder could have been both an excellent psychological study and a thriller along the lines of Body Heat. Yet because these issues are never truly explored and the film lacks coherence, it is little more than a potpourri of halfdeveloped ideas and undeveloped characters. And that is something Debra Winger can truly cry about.