After scanning a rave review of "Eye of the Beholder," I went to a press
screening of the psychological thriller with high hopes. An hour and 50
minutes later, while the closing credits rolled, I sat shaking my head
as a fellow critic turned to me and said, "What in the hell was all that
about?!?" Following an intriguing start, "Eye of the Beholder" soon
deteriorates into an incomprehensible mess, and a pretentious one to
boot. "The Sixth Sense" featured a somber child who chilled audiences by
saying, "I see dead people." There's a somber child in this movie as
well, one who was probably thinking, "I see a dead script."
The film, which stars Ashley Judd as a serial killer and Ewan McGregor
as an obsessed surveillance expert, was shot well before the two actors
achieved mainstream success in, respectively, "Double Jeopardy" and
"Star Wars: The Phantom Menace." Released now to exploit their fame,
word of mouth will likely insure a quick fade for the noir flick,
despite the inclusion of a nude scene from the extremely attractive
Judd. At least the producers were thoughtful enough to place that
segment at the beginning of the film, so when it hits cable, those who
want to see Ashley naked can do so without having to suffer through much
of the story.
Based on the acclaimed 1980 novel by Marc Behm, "Eye of the Beholder"
follows a British Secret Service agent called The Eye (McGregor) as he
investigates the possible blackmail of his employer's son. While spying
on the young man, he watches in horror as Joanna Eris (Judd) hacks up
the guy with a butcher knife. Instead of calling the cops, he follows
her from city to city like a lovestruck puppy as she turns more
unsuspecting men into sushi.
Why? Well, apparently it's some sort of Jerry Springer deal where one
incredibly fucked-up person finds another incredibly fucked-up person
irresistible. You see, after each slaughter, Joanna screams about her
daddy, who deserted her when she was a child. The Eye can relate; years
ago, his wife took their young daughter and left, frustrated over his
obsession with work. In fact, The Eye often sees visions of his
daughter, occasionally two at once. Interestingly enough, while he does
chat with the hallucinations from time to time, he remains preoccupied
with business. So much for learning from your mistakes.
He is able, however, to devote his full attention to Joanna. After all,
what inexpressive guy who lost his family wouldn't get the hots for a
man-slashing nut case? It's a love connection!
Things were different in the book. The Eye was a middle-aged man who
followed Joanna because he believed she might actually be his long lost
daughter. But writer/director Stephan Elliot ("The Adventures of
Priscilla: Queen of the Desert") didn't want to waste his time with
something as pedestrian as a faithful adaptation of the source material.
Instead, he takes out his Crayola and creates the kind of weird-ass
trifle David Lynch might have done in grammar school. For scene
transitions, he zooms in on snow globes depicting the next locale. The
effect is engaging at first, but he repeats it for the entire film.
After the sixth or seventh snow globe, I was ready to take an ax to the
nearest souvenir stand.
Elliot desperately wants to be Alfred Hitchcock, but he can't even pull
off a decent Brian De Palma. From the ham-handed visual underscoring of
his "guardian angel" theme to a "Look! I saw 'Vertigo!'" scene in a bell
tower, Elliot directs with the finesse of Homer Simpson at an
all-you-can-eat pork chop dinner.
Somehow, Ashley Judd comes through it all relatively unscathed. Despite
being forced to sport a variety of bad wigs and shriek her motivations
with each new murder, she still imbues Joanna with a degree of depth
beyond anything in Elliot's murky screenplay. And, although the insular
nature of his character gives him little room to move, Ewan McGregor
deserves credit just for keeping a straight face through this nonsense,
especially when his character must play super sleuth while wearing an
attention-getting bright red jacket.
After the "Eye of the Beholder" screening, I expressed relief to my
colleague that I would have a few days to process what I'd seen. After
considerable reflection, I've come to the conclusion that there is
little to process. "Eye of the Beholder" wants to be an art film and a
thriller. It fails at both aspirations. If you'll pardon the expression,
there is far less here than meets the eye.
Copyright © 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott