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movie review out of 4 Movie Review: Diabolique

Starring: Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani
Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Rated: R
RunTime: 107 Minutes
Release Date: March 1996
Genres: Drama, Mystery, Suspense

*Also starring: Chazz Palminteri, Spalding Gray, Shirley Knight, O'Neal Compton, Kathy Bates, Jeffrey Abrams, Donal Bellamy, Diana Bellamy

Review by Steve Rhodes
1 star out of 4

For reasons that probably have more to do with money than art, Hollywood has decided to remake the 1954 French thriller LES DIABOLIQUES. This time it is a hopelessly muddled mess called simply DIABOLIQUE, which isn't very simple at all for American audiences I guess since the guy in front of me at the box office at local multiplex said "give me two tickets to that show with the strange name."

In this remake by director Jeremiah Chechik, he got himself some big box office stars, but skimped on the best part of the original movie which was the elaborate and well constructed script. In this disastrous version, written by Don Roos, most of the motivational scenes that set up the character's later actions have been excised from the original script and the time filled out with scenes of meaningless fluff.

The plot for the movie is that Guy (Chazz Palminteri) runs a boys' boarding school that is actually owned by his wife Mia (Isabelle Adjani). He is having one of his many affairs, this time with a teacher named Nicole (Sharon Stone). This much you can figure out if you listen carefully. Harder to see is that Guy is supposed to be a sadist and that Mia and Nicole are in love with each other. We have a scene where Guy forces Mia to eat some food she does not like, and then she is off to kill him with Nicole's help. This is all laid out in much more detail in the original so you can understand better what the characters' motivations are. When all of a sudden she is killing him early on in this version, the audience is needlessly confused. Yes, maybe she should divorce him, but why does she have to kill him? The movie plays like a Readers Digest version of the original. Eventually, Kathy Bates (Shirley) is added as a wisecracking detective that Mia hires. Ultimately the movie is about who actually killed whom and who will be caught.

The script is a travesty and features dialog that is so trite as to be silly. After Mia calls Guy, Nicole says, "Why don't you take him off speed dial?" When Mia decides to divorce Guy and give him the school, Nicole advises her, "If you give him the school, he'll just sell it, and then where would all the future Lee Harvey Oswalds come from?" When the script does not have characters uttering inanities, it relies on classic cliches like lots of thunder and lighting to provide the right atmosphere, and it mimics many of the low budget horror shows that are on late night cable. It is so poor it may put you to sleep so I would avoid going to the evening show if you feel you just have to see this remake for some reason.

Ignoring for a minute the poor direction and the hacked up script, how is the acting you ask? Well, Sharon Stone's make up by Tricia Sawyer turns her into a harsh caricature. She has a tube full of red lipstick on in every scene and with bright red nails to match. She chain-smokes, frowns constantly, and is an extremely unsympathetic character. You keep hoping that someone will knock her off or maybe she will fall in the swimming pool and drown. You never believe for a moment that Guy or Mia could in love with her or could have a affair with her. Who could stand this mean rock of a woman.

I usually like Chazz Palminteri, although he has been bad in some movies like MULHOLLAND FALLS, but here he is simply miscast. He is never convincing as a sadist. The only characters with any appeal in the film are Adjani and Bates. Parts of Adjani's character make the audience care about her, but her performance is frequently wooden. Bates is good only for a little comic relief and has several funny lines, but I did not buy her as a detective.

The cinematography by Peter James is too didactic for my taste. Items like ice buckets will crash to the floor and the camera with zoom in tight to overemphasize its importance in the plot. There was one part of the movie I totally loved and that was the overboard, but fun, old fashioned dramatic movie music by Randy Edelman. Hey, if we have to sit through this mess, lets at least have something exhilarating to which to listen.

DIABOLIQUE runs a long 1:48 which is amazing since so many key developmental scenes were either deleted by editor Carol Littleton or more likely judged not important for American audiences and so were never in the script in the first place. The film is correctly rated R and has bad language, sex, full frontal nudity, gratuitous violence copied straight from low grade horror flicks, and heavy smoking. I suppose it will be okay for most teenagers, but I hope they do not bother with this one and rent the much better original instead. Even with subtitles, the original is a much easier film to follow. I give thumbs way down to DIABOLIQUE and award it a single *. Finally, to be fair, I should point out my wife liked it, flaws and all.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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