115 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, April 16, 1999
Directed by Roland Joffe
Starring Patricia Arquette, Dermot Mulroney, Ellen DeGeneres, Don Johnson, Mary-Louise Parker, Ray McKinnon & Vincent Gallo
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 15%|
LETTERBOX: COULDN'T HURT
Strictly entertaining - as opposed to exciting or engrossing - this one will probably be better on video than it was in the theater. But if you can find it in wide screen it's worth it for Dante Spinotti's photography.
VIDEO RELEASE: 10/12/99
Predictable neo-noir murder-comedy propped up by performances
A darkly comic, manifold double-cross, murder-for-insurance-money movie, "Goodbye Lover" invokes film noir by way of Hitchcock and Tarantino as it follows a cast of sexpot ne'er-do-wells through a plot of increasingly familiar twists.
Patricia Arquette stars as Sandra Dunmore, an oddball, fashion victim, femme fatale in a blonde pageboy 'do, who seduces her brother-in-law while plotting her husband's murder -- or so it seems at first.
Said brothers -- Dermot Mulroney (husband, misanthropic drunk) and Don Johnson (cocky Casanova) -- are both insured for millions by the upscale public relations firm at which they are executives, and, under the enticement of Sandra, have each developed nefarious designs on the other.
So when Ben (Johnson) takes a header off the balcony of brother's high-rise, Architectural Digest condo, shifty Sandra and Jake (Mulroney) stand to collect a tidy sum. That is, until seemingly sugar-sweet Peggy (Mary-Louise Parker) shows up with proof of her weekend-in-Vegas marriage to the recently deceased.
Naturally, more murder plots and betrayals must ensue and Sandra's whole plan is complicated by the presence of a sardonic, bitter police detective (pitch-perfect Ellen DeGeneres), who just refuses to buy Ben's deca-story drop as an accident.
Directed by Roland Joffe (who, amazingly, was not run out of Hollywood after "The Scarlet Letter"), "Goodbye Lover" turns up the volume on all the traditional elements of noir and dark comedy.
The dialogue is packed with deliciously delivered double entendres. Arquette plays her dangerous woman with an ironic wink -- she's addicted to self-help tapes and cheerfully sings along to "The Sound of Music."
The editing is resourceful and silky smooth, the photography (by the ingenious Dante Spinotti who gave "L.A. Confidential" and "Heat" such distinctive looks) is packed with new takes on old-fashioned swings, pans and Dutch angles.
But for all his stylistic and creative delivery, Joffe never quite finds a comfortable pace for building to a punchy climax with this somersaulting tale. And it has one other big problem: Accustom to the kinds of overly-complicated twists "Goodbye Lover" throws our way, audiences are just too savvy anymore to be fooled by what the movie holds back to spring later (of course Parker isn't as innocent as she seems).
"Goodbye Lover" limps along because of these shortcomings, but what it lacks in direction is partially makes up for in a few choice performances.
Arquette is perfectly cast as a sexy flake. Ray McKinnon ("The Net") is a great foil for DeGeneres, as her half-hayseed idealist, half-spiritual humanist partner who can't help but be flustered by her seen- it- all- and- never- cared- to- begin- with attitude.
But the movie's scene stealer, by design, is DeGeneres herself. A dowdy, paunchy goof on the "Cagney and Lacy"-type cop, she's a steamroller of cynicism who devours corn dogs during interrogations and never bothers with feigned sympathy ("Put a sock in it, sister. You're wasting good mascara.").
She's every bit as good here as she was in last month's "EDtv," which was her best acting (as opposed to stand-up) performance to date. She could have a healthy career with these kinds of roles, and I, for one, hope she does.