Movie Review ~ Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

The Facts

Synopsis: Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Robert Knepper

Director: Edward Zwick

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: At one point in the outright terrible Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Tom Cruise says to a character, “That was really stupid.  Please don’t ever do that again.”  I think I speak for the entire movie-going public by saying, ‘Physician, heal thyself.”  While 2012’s Jack Reacher wasn’t the kind of sizable hit that had tongues wagging, I felt it was a quite entertaining action flick and a nice opportunity for Cruise to push beyond his clean-cut hero image and latch onto a character with some demons to deal with.  Though Cruise didn’t fit the description of the former US Military Police officer author Lee Child has featured in twenty novels over the last two decades, he won over most of his naysayers and with Cruise’s A-List status reestablished by a string of hits (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Edge of Tomorrow, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) a sequel was easily greenlit with Cruise serving as main producer.

Of all the novels that could have served as the inspiration for the sequel, it’s surprising that Cruise and company gravitated toward Never Go Back which is one of the newer novels in the Jack Reacher series.  Though well-reviewed, it finds Reacher far along in the arc Child has developed and its transition to the screen is seriously flawed under the pen of Richard Wenk, Marshall Herskovitz, and director Edward Zwick.  The dialogue is dreadful and the plot about black market weaponry and drug trafficking is so non-existent that when it finally does circle back to Reacher and fugitive Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) out to clear both their names it’s treated more as a pee break opportunity than a climax.

Even worse, Reacher is identified as the possible father of a teenager (Danika Yarosh) and wouldn’t ya know it, when he gets involved the bad guys target his supposed offspring so she has to go on the run with her maybe-Daddy.  All the while, the trio are pursued by a horde of easily bested bad guys led by a man (Patrick Heusinger, Frances Ha) identified in the credits only as The Hunter.  There are a heap ton of ensemble players and all look more excited to be in a scene with Cruise than they do about playing poorly written throwaway roles.

In his last few movies, critics have singled out Cruise’s supporting players and leading ladies as highlights and I think he must have started taking that personally.  In Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, everyone other than Cruise seems to have been selected because they are so out of their league with their megawatt star.  I’m stunned Cruise deigned to share screen time with Smulders who was barely a serviceable actress on television.  Getting every single one of her line readings wrong, her character whines about Reacher not respecting her as a woman who can hold her own…while wearing a short robe casually opened almost to the navel.  If there’s supposed to be chemistry between the two, the formula didn’t pan out because they look like people that grabbed for the same magazine in the dentist office and just continued to talk.

As Cruise’s daughter, Yarosh is giving me Anna Paquin meets Patricia Arquette, minus any of the talent or charm that brought both actresses Oscars.  Uncomfortably awkward and sullen for 90% of the film, you’re praying Reacher doesn’t end up being her dad lest she be guaranteed a spot in a future sequel.  I’m not quite sure what happened with Heusinger’s hitman, he’s supposed to be a highly trained special ops killer but is outwitted and outplayed by almost everyone he comes in contact with.  If he kills someone, it almost feels accidental because he’s so grossly unbelievable in the role.

Though Zwick had early success in his career with Glory and Legends of the Fall, this represents a career low for him (and Cruise, and everyone else).  Had Cruise not been in this and the Jack Reacher moniker been stripped, I could see the entire production being moved to a comeback vehicle for Jean Claude Van Damme and it making some decent money.  It’s so bad, I half expected Cruise to turn to look at the audience and yell “Suckers!” before starting over again with a different cast and script.

Edited poorly with no continuity of time and place to speak of, the movie feels like it was put in a blender and assembled in the dark as part of a community service project.  The only act of kindness that can happen for Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is to have it wiped from our memory and Cruise be allowed a re-do.

Movie Review ~ Keeping Up with the Joneses

The Facts

Synopsis: A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.

Stars: Zach Galifianakis, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, Patton Oswalt

Director: Greg Mottola

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: When asked by a friend about my thoughts after screening Keeping Up with the Joneses, all I could offer up was, “It’s stupid.  Not bad, not unwatchable…just stupid.” If you’re ok with ‘stupid’ then by all means get thee to your local theater and plunk down those bucks to see a movie that gets it wrong from the get-go.

The problem is, I feel, with the cast.  Not that Zach Galifianakis (Muppets Most Wanted), Jon Hamm (Million Dollar Arm), Isla Fisher (Now You See Me), & Gal Gadot (Triple 9) are wrong for the movie…they’re just in the wrong roles.  Stick with me here, ok?  How many times have we seen movies where statuesque women and movie-star handsome men play secret agents in disguise? And in how many features do they have sidekicks that aren’t quite runway ready but are more than capable of carrying lighter material?  That’s the problem…all four actors above the title in Keeping Up with the Joneses are simply playing into expectations dictated by their Q-scores.

I think I would have enjoyed the movie more had Galifianakis and Fisher swapped roles with Hamm and Gadot because it would have afforded them (and audiences) a chance for something different.  Hamm could certainly have handled the comic bits and I think Galifianakis would have been able to smooth out some of the roughly scripted staid edges screenwriter Michael LeSieur couldn’t do himself.  And why couldn’t Fisher have been the confident super-spy that shows repressed suburban mom Gadot how to wear French cut lingerie and trade bullets with bad guys?

Sadly, no one asked my opinion so Keeping Up with the Joneses is just your standard spy comedy where everyone is simply coasting along to pick up their paycheck at the end of the week.  There’s little joy in the telling of the tale where government operatives Gadot and Hamm pose as new neighbors in a cul-de-sac populated by the employees of a local software business.  Galifianakis is the HR rep for the company and Fisher is his homemaker wife that’s the first to notice the new couple on the block is too good to be true.  When a mole offers to sell a valuable computer chip to the top bidder, the two couples become involved with a little espionage and a lot of poorly constructed action sequences.

If there is a VIP of the movie, Fisher is certainly it.  Possessing good comic instincts and a true talent for physical comedy, Fisher easily outperforms Hamm and Galifianakis, both of whom barely lift a finger to bring anything new to the party.  I wish Gadot’s role wasn’t quite so one-dimensional, though her role-reversal of power with her seemingly more macho counterpart is a nice wrinkle.  The supporting players are a collection of desperate scene stealers clearly compensated with free meals from their scenery chewing.

For all its brightly lit suburban bliss and basic cable action scenes, director Greg Mottola’s (Superbad) film looks pretty cheap.  I expected some of the sets to tip over if people leaned against them and the few special effects would have been impressive had this come out the summer after Tron did.  Keep your eyes open for a scene between Galifianakis and Hamm that was clearly a reshoot – both men are wearing wigs so fake looking you’d swear they raided the discount Halloween bin at CVS.

Possibly enjoyed as a rental down the line, Keeping Up with the Joneses isn’t worth much of an effort this fall.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Stepfather (1987)


The Facts:

Synopsis: After murdering his entire family, a man remarries a widow with a teenage daughter in another town and prepares to do it all over again.

Stars: Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack

Director: Joseph Ruben

Rated: 89 minutes

Running Length: R

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Long before he reached a career zenith with his role on television’s Lost, Terry O’Quinn was mostly known as “that one guy in that one film”. A dependable character actor, he popped up in big movies and small but was rarely required to truly carry the heft of a film and if you look over his resume you’ll see he’s worked with just about everyone.  However, back in 1985 when The Stepfather went into production (it wasn’t released until 1987), O’Quinn wasn’t a familiar face and that worked to his advantage in showing that his harmless appearance masked a nutball determined to find the perfect family.

Opening with the grisly tableau of murder and the blood soaked man that did the deed, The Stepfather jumps ahead in time to find Jerry Blake (O’Quinn) settling in with a new family in a new town. His new wife Susan (Shelley Hack) thinks he can do no wrong and is grateful to have a man around the house but his stepdaughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen, a popular fave in horror films of the ‘80s) isn’t too keen on the guy.  Stephanie isn’t just bugged by Jerry’s cornball old school values, she’s wary of his outbursts that don’t align with his calm demeanor.

Director Joseph Ruben moves the pieces around nicely for the first half of the film, creating tension as Stephanie does some detective work while Jerry knocks off anyone that gets in the way of his happiness.  He eventually realizes that Stephanie has to go but doesn’t bet on the fact that as much as he’s willing to kill for the perfect family, Stephanie’s just as game to keep him out of hers.  It gets a bit heavy-handed as it unspools with the final showdown gratuitous on many fronts…such as a strange shower scene for Schoelen that feels icky and exploitative.

O’Quinn is scary good here, treading the line between tightly wound and out of control with a nice balance.  He makes the character more than just a killer in a tweed jacket and argyle socks and brings a real sense of psychosis to Jerry.  Hack is sorta bland but that’s also how her character’s written.  Even so, you’ll be driven mad by how long it takes her to catch on that her new husband is cuckoo.  As is usually the case, Schoelen is an engaging heroine that you’re willing to root for.  With a voice that always sounds like she was screaming for hours the night before, she’s a nice fit with the role and a good match for O’Quinn.

While The Stepfather ends with a pretty final dénouement, if you do your homework you’ll see that it spawned two sequels, the first of which featured O’Quinn reprising his role in what’s basically just a remake of the first film.  It’s a decent sequel but steer clear of the third entry that recasts its lead and doesn’t drum up much excitement.  A modern remake was released in 2009 but it failed to make anyone forget how solid the original film was.

31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Birthday to Me (1981)


The Facts:

Synopsis: At the snobby Crawford Academy, popular high school senior Virginia Wainwright survives a freak accident, but suffers from memory loss and traumatic blackouts. As she attempts to resume a normal life, something terrible is happening – her friends are ruthlessly murdered one-by-one.

Stars: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Jack Blum, Matt Craven, Lisa Langlois, Tracy Bregman, Lenore Zahn, Lesleh Donaldson

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: By the time Happy Birthday to Me rolled into theaters in May of 1981, movie houses were becoming saturated with holiday themed slasher pics after the booming success of Halloween in 1978 and Friday the 13th in 1980.  No government holiday stone was left unturned and no religious day of remembrance was safe from having a killer (or killers) hunting down people that just want to have a good Easter egg roll or plant in tree in honor of Arbor Day.  See Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, and Terror Train if you need a refresher.

What sets Happy Birthday to Me apart from the others is that it actually feels like it’s trying for the majority of its running length, aiming to provide audiences with some unique kills and a fair number of red herrings to keep you guessing until the totally ludicrous finale.  Underneath the gore and out of left field plot twists lies a fairly interesting film that isn’t totally lost along the way to its genre’s normal trappings.

A puzzling late career entry for director J. Lee Thompson (the original Cape Fear, The Guns of the Navarone) and one of actor Glenn Ford’s last roles, this nicely budgeted Canadian produced flick has Mary Ingalls herself (Melissa Sue Anderson) as a popular girl who just can’t keep her friends alive.  Still feeling the lingering effects of a traumatic brain injury due to a car crash that claimed the life of her mother, she starts to suffer blackouts and when she wakes up finds that another coed has been murdered.  With her birthday approaching the guest list gets liberally trimmed by a killer that likes to off their victims in a most cinematic fashion (I mean, just look at the poster!).

It’s clear that along the way the original script was jiggered with and lost some of its intended focus.  Though it feels like it’s headed one way for its big reveal, the ending provided is one no one would ever be able to predict in a million years.  I’m guessing there was a last minute reshoot to make the conclusion less obvious but in doing so it renders a heap of earlier clues and plot points useless.  It’s a cheat and a big cheat at that, but it’s just looney tunes enough to make it memorable.

Anderson never was that strong of an actress and it shows here as well.  Whether crying, screaming, or saying her lines in a flat monotone, a Scream Queen she was not destined to be.  Ford collects his paycheck without much shame while a bunch of Canadian teens never make that much of an impression, save for Matt Craven (Indian Summer) and Tracy Bregman as Anderson’s doomed chums.

It’s a film that goes from spooky to silly to scary to stupid but it’s not a bad party to think about attending – trust me, you’ve been to way worse real birthdays.  And don’t forget the creepy theme song that plays over the end credits…

The Silver Bullet ~ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


Synopsis: The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage.

Release Date: May 5, 2017

Thoughts: Surpassing the expectations of audiences and even, I think, its own studio, Guardians of the Galaxy was a late summer splash in 2014.  Elevating star Chris Pratt to A-List status (further cemented the next summer when he headlined Jurassic World) and bringing to the screen heroes that didn’t wear a red cape or a cowl, GoTG was slick, funny, exciting, and fueled with enough adrenaline to power several city blocks.  The hype is big for Vol. 2 when it arrives in May 2017 and this first teaser is but a taste of things to come (not to mention multiple full length trailers).  In all honesty, like the trailer for the original this one is too jokey for my taste but as a whistle whetter, it gets the job done.

31 Days to Scare – Screams from the Past


Well, we’re a little over halfway through October and you’re probably starting to plan your Halloween night watch list.  If my selections so far haven’t given you the willies, I wanted to call out some special frights from the past that I just can’t let go unnoticed.

  1. The Changeling (1980) – A man staying at a secluded historical mansion finds himself being haunted by the presence of a spectre. 
    • One of the few films that consistently sends a shiver up my spine.  It’s got great atmosphere and the kind of scares that build into a goosebump frenzy.  Some pretty hair-raising frights await you.  Just don’t get it confused with the unrelated Angelina Jolie/Clint Eastwood movie.
  2. Hocus Pocus (1993) – After three centuries, three witch sisters are resurrected in Salem, Massachusetts on Halloween night, and it is up to two teenagers, a young girl, and an immortal cat to put an end to their reign of terror once and for all. 
    • Bombed when it was first released thanks to a dumb summer release date but has lived on and on and on in countless TV showings and yearly viewings from fans.  Disney even brought back The Sanderson Sisters for a live Halloween show at their Disneyland theme park (I saw it…it was fantastic).
  3. The Innkeepers (2011) – During the final days at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, two employees determined to reveal the hotel’s haunted past begin to experience disturbing events as old guests check in for a stay. 
    • This is one that may take a while to dig into but once it gets started it has some neat-o moments and a fun performance from Kelly McGillis as a grumpy psychic.
  4. Waxwork (1988) – A wax museum owner uses his horror exhibits to unleash evil on the world.
    • Newly released in a snazzy BluRay edition, Waxwork continues to delight all these years later and is especially a find for horror film buffs that will get a lot of the inside jokes.
  5. Wolfen (1981) – A New York cop investigates a series of brutal deaths that resemble animal attacks.
    • This is a real good one from the early ’80s featuring Albert Finney as a cop looking into some pretty gruesome murders.  It’s a fascinating film with a great score and some interesting twists and turns.  It’s not as well known as it should be but it’s worth tracking down.

See all of my past 31 Days to Scare selection from 2012 here and 2016 here.








31 Days to Scare ~ Elvira, Mistress of the Dark


The Facts:

Synopsis: When her great aunt dies, famous horror hostess Elvira heads for the uptight New England town Falwell to claim her inheritance of a haunted house, a witch’s cookbook and a punk rock poodle. But once the stuffy locals get an eyeful of the scream queen’s ample assets, all hell busts out and breaks loose.

Stars: Cassandra Peterson, Edie McClurg, William Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Susan Kellerman, Frank Collison, Jeff Conaway, Pat Crawford Brown, William Duell

Director: James Signorelli

Rated: PG-13

Running Length 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Along with the classic horror films and modern shockers, it’s nice to have a few scary-adjacent films in your back pocket on the off chance you find yourself in the company of someone who’d rather not feel the fright.  There are plenty of these types of films, with family fare like Hocus Pocus finding a wider audience outside of the PG crowd throughout the years.  I’d also add Elvira, Mistress of the Dark to the pile of alternative titles that can be a fun substitute when gore just won’t do.

Originally introduced in 1981 as a midnight movie hostess on a local cable access station, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) soon gained wider popularity thanks to her revealing attire and tongue in cheek snarky comments about the low-budget horror films she was showcasing.  People started to tune in just to see Elvira and treated the movies like commercial breaks.  With multiple products bearing her likeness and licensing deals for promotions on a global scale, what better way to capitalize on that fame then to have Elvira star in her very own movie, right?  A total no-brainer.  And that’s what you get.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is pretty silly and downright stupid at times but watching it again recently I was amazed at how brisk it moved and how much energy Peterson brings to the character.  When Elvira gets sacked from her late night gig and owing money to producers of her upcoming Las Vegas show, her future looks grim.  Then, out of the blue, she’s informed she’s the beneficiary of an inheritance just waiting for her to claim in a conservative New England township.

She’s not in town long before she’s alienated the local goody-goody (Edie McClurg, Frozen), run afoul of a trio of no goodniks (Susan Kellerman, Frank Collison, & Jeff Conaway), and thrown a wrench into the plans of her uncle (William Morgan Sheppard, Star Trek) who has sinister inclinations involving witchcraft.  She also catches the eye of the town hunk (Daniel Greene) and rouses the town’s teenagers from their fun-free, repressed comas.  There’s plenty of boob jokes and bad puns, all delivered by Peterson with zany charm and a totally wacky musical number at the film’s conclusion.

Look, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is no shining example of cutting-edge writing or overly competent filmmaking but it’s quite funny and self-aware.  Co-written by Peterson, the movie is tailor-made to fit into the Elvira brand and while not a critical or box office hit, it gained enough notoriety through video rentals to keep Elvira alive and kickin’.  Even today, Peterson looks like a million bucks in her Elvira get-up and keeps her fans happy with each appearance.  Though a sequel, Elvira’s Haunted Hills, appeared over a decade later it couldn’t quite match the fun of her original outing which has aged well…much like its star.

31 Days to Scare ~ Jennifer 8


The Facts:

Synopsis: A big city cop from LA moves to a small town police force and immediately finds himself investigating a murder.

Stars: Andy Garcia, Uma Thurman, Lance Henriksen, John Malkovich, Graham Beckel, Kathy Baker, Kevin Conway

Director: Bruce Robinson

Rated: R

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Jennifer 8 is a mystery/thriller that won’t work for many people but it’s been a reliable favorite of mine over the years.  In all honesty, the more I watch it the more I see the gaps in writer/director Bruce Robinson’s screenplay but it just doesn’t seem to change the way I feel about the movie as a whole.  Rich in atmosphere and at times decently creepy, it has fine performances and a true “what the hell” ending that I find to be a lot of fun.

After his marriage ends in divorce, L.A. policeman John Berlin (Andy Garcia, Ghostbusters) takes an old colleague (Lane Henriksen, Color of Night) up on an offer to join his police force in a remote northern California town.  The sleepy hamlet might be the right place for Berlin to heal and recover from the wounds of his failed union.  Shortly after he arrives a severed hand is discovered in a local dump and when the appendage is identified as belonging to a girl from a local institute for the blind, Berlin becomes embroiled in the case of a serial killer and a blind woman (Uma Thurman, Pulp Fiction) who could be the next victim.

There’s a lot that goes on in Jennifer 8 that isn’t fully explained…starting with the title.  A vague reference is made to a string of supposed victims of the killer under the code name Jennifer but the victims don’t add up to 8.  Then there’s a coincidental entry in a notebook from a murdered acquaintance that seems to inadvertently point to Berlin as a potential suspect, necessitating the appearance of John Malkovich (Zoolander 2) as an FBI interrogator out to prove Berlin made up the serial killer to cover his own tracks.  And Robinson adds in so many red herrings that when the solution is revealed you may be tempted to hit rewind to view it again and then pause it to draw the connections together in your head.

What does work for the film are the performances from Garcia, Thurman, and especially Kathy Baker (Saving Mr. Banks) as Henriksen’s wife.  Thurman blank stares with the best of them and Garcia’s frustration boils over so violently that his Cuban accent pops in frequently.  Christopher Young’s (Sinister) piano/string score is beautifully haunting and cinematography from three time Oscar winner Conrad Hall makes excellent use of shadows, the deserted corridors of the institute where a killer hunts, and the rain/snow soaked landscapes of the town.

The resulting film may be a bit overstuffed for audiences and I know there will be those that scoff at the finale Robinson cooks up…but I like it all.  It seems to be made with a classier touch than it probably deserved and though it was box office and critical disappointment I would call this one vastly underrated.  Decide for yourself, though.

31 Days to Scare ~ Circle

circleThe Facts:

Synopsis: Could you trust a jury of your peers with your life? The contestants of a mysterious death game must make harrowing decisions as they strategize for survival in this psychological sci-fi thriller.

Stars: Michael Nardelli, Allegra Masters, Molly Jackson, Jordi Vilasuso, Rene Heger, Julie Benz, Lisa Pelikan, Matt Corboy

Director: Aaron Hann, Mario Miscione

Rated: NR

Running Length: 87 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Ready for a bit of fun?  Circle is another of those neat-o finds on Netflix that intrigued me enough to add it to my queue and fire it up on a rainy day.  It’s a risky endeavor setting your entire film in one room with an ever-dwindling cast of unfamiliar faces but writer/directors Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione go all in and wind up with a surprising and surprisingly entertaining little thriller that feels like an extended episode of Night Gallery, The Twilight Zone, or The Outer Limits.

Fifty seemingly unconnected strangers wake up in a strange room positioned in a circle with several rows.  Why they are there or how they got there no one can say but this room has secrets that are revealed slowly throughout the movie.  The room also has a set of rules the group needs to figure out before time runs out.  Step outside of the circle, you die.  Stand still where you are, you may die.

Every few minutes a warning signal is sounded, alerting the group that another of them is about to lose the game and their life.  After the first few people meet their untimely ends, the crowd starts to slowly figure out how each victim is selected and it soon becomes a game of survival as they have to decide collectively who is worthy to live another round and who should be sacrificed for the good of the group.

What keeps Circle so watchable is the unknown.  Since the cast is comprised almost entirely of unknowns (save for a few character actors) you never know who is going to make it from round to round.  Just when you think a hero or heroine has emerged, the film switches things up and what you thought was happening turns out to be false.  In other movies, this trickery would be unforgivable but in the context of the game at the center of Circle, it makes for fascinating viewing.  Amazingly, Hann and Miscione even manage to stick the ending, bringing the film to a satisfying conclusion.

Simple in construct but complex in execution (pardon the pun), Circle can be seen as a bit of a social experiment.  Will the people deemed “worthy” be saved by those that society may turn its back on?  Will the strong survive or will they be the first to go?  How about young vs. old?  Male vs female?  The rules remain the same but the contestants are the ones that keep changing the game.  And you won’t be able to change the channel.  Circle is a good choice for those that like to keep guessing at the outcome and don’t mind being wrong.

31 Days to Scare ~ Single White Female


The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman advertising for a new roommate finds that something very strange is going on with the tenant who decides to move in

Stars: Bridget Fonda, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Steven Weber, Peter Friedman, Stephen Tobolowsky

Director: Barbet Schroeder

Rated: R

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Ahhhh!  It’s movies like Single White Female that make me pine for a revival of the early ‘90s psycho thrillers!  It seemed that two decades ago not a week would go by without the release of another movie about a crazed boyfriend/girlfriend/co-worker/stranger terrorizing some poor unfortunate soul.  Giving birth to an endless trail of sleaze films (and sequels!) these potboilers were slickly produced and often featured top notch actors and directors pushing themselves out of their comfortable blockbuster zone.  Most of these movies are forgotten now, deemed cliché relics of a more exploitative time. Every so often, though, a film like Single White Female earns its place at the top of the heap.

Adapted by Don Roos from the novel SWF Seeks Same by John Lutz and efficiently directed by Barbet Schroeder (coming off of an Oscar nomination for directing Reversal of Fortune in 1990), the movie dives headfirst into its tale of software designer Allison Jones (Bridget Fonda) who winds up with the roommate from hell.  Needing the extra money to make the rent in her spacious New York loft (the place would rent now for thousands of dollars a month) and having recently broken up with her philandering boyfriend Sam (Steven Weber), she posts an ad that attracts a variety of eccentrics.  Arriving at a time when Allison is emotionally fragile, mousy waif Hedra Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight) quickly earns her trust and the keys to the apartment.

At first Hedy and Allie get along swimmingly, but when Sam re-enters the picture Hedy feels like she’s losing her best friend and living situation and she’ll do practically anything to stay where she is.  Next thing you know, Hedy cuts and dyes her hair to match Allie and starts wearing her clothes and that’s when the real weirdness begins…along with the murders.

The film has some interesting blunt obstacles to overcome, not the least of which is Hedy’s inherent oddball-ness from the get-go.  She preys on Allie’s need for companionship, a need that blinds her to the danger Hedy poses to far more than her security deposit.  Leigh brings some extraordinary depth to the role and moves the character from being not just a lunatic but a deeply wounded soul that lashes out when her happiness is threatened.  It’s a layered performance that matches well with Fonda’s sharp edged Allie.  Allie isn’t the sweetest soul either and there’s a little bit of a popular high school cheerleader rooming with the poor misfit outcast vibe to it all.  Makes me miss Fonda’s presence in Hollywood where she’s been sadly absent since 2002.

The film isn’t perfect, failing to explain any of the life that happens outside the walls of the apartment and not doing much in the way of etching out the male roles like Stephen Tobolowsky’s lecherous client of Allie’s and Peter Friedman (Side Effects) as an upstairs neighbor.  Feeling like a play at times, the concentrated claustrophobia of the historic building (beautifully filmed by Luciano Tovoli who did wonders with Suspiria) can be a bit suffocating at times but works in the films favor when it approaches its cat and mouse chase climax.

Aside from some guffaw inducing computer software graphics, Single White Female plays quite well in this age of advanced communication and connection.  It’s always a risk to live with a roommate you don’t know…but at least know you can Facebook stalk them or pull up their criminal history with the touch of a button.  Back in 1992, you had to go with your gut and in 2016 my gut still tells me to watch this thriller every few years.