Ardustry Home Entertainment // 1994 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // July 15th, 2005
Seduction, obsession, and murder lie just beneath.
If you've seen one of these stupid so-called erotic thrillers...
Following the death of his girlfriend (a death brought on by the odd combination of an overdose of pills and a stab wound to the chest), aspiring writer Jarvis Scott (Robert Patrick, Striptease) returns to his native Los Angeles. Jarvis attempts to publish his novel, but the subject matter makes a sale an unlikely prospect. Literary agent Chazz Stone (Matt McCoy, Deep Star Six) tells Jarvis to write something harder and sexier, but Jarvis draws on real life for inspiration, so he is at a loss for material until he hears Dani Payson (Terri Hatcher, Tango & Cash), his next door neighbor, fighting with her boyfriend. Jarvis begins chronicling the couple's rows, but he also finds himself becoming increasingly attracted to Dani. The two eventually begin an affair, which provides even more material for Jarvis's novel. Jarvis completes his work, sells both the book and the film rights on the same day, and quickly finds himself on Hollywood's A-list. The good life turns bad when Jarvis discovers that Dani, who is an aspiring actress, is up for the female lead in the film adaptation of his work. Jarvis, certain that Dani slept with him in hopes of winning the role, feels betrayed, and his feelings lead to him to seek revenge on those he believes have wronged him.
I'm usually pretty good at remembering these sorts of things, but I forgot I had seen The Cool Surface on cable (it was probably either Cinemax or Showtime) more than ten years ago. Yes, I was suckered in by the promise of nudity and strong sexual content, and I do mean suckered. This is one of those flicks in which the good parts (what few there are) are crammed into the first half hour, after which you're forced to watch the alleged story unfold. Screw that.
First off, even though we're not supposed to know he's crazy until the third act, it's obvious from the opening frames Jarvis isn't what he appears to be. He's shown shirtless and sweaty, pounding away at an old manual typewriter, and then pounding away at a punching bag when he's at a loss for a word (I guess maybe he's supposed to be a Norman Mailer type, but Patrick's appearance reminded me of Howard Stern sidekick Fred Norris, which lead to the film's first instance of unintentional humor). There are only two kinds of film characters who use manual typewriters: serious writers and nut jobs; it's not too hard to figure out which category Jarvis falls into. If that's not evidence enough, there's a flashback ten minutes in showing Jarvis's late girlfriend with a pair of scissors sticking out of her chest (guess Patrick went a little T-1000 on her), and how many people commit suicide by getting loaded up on pills and then shoving a sharp instrument through their breastbone? For anyone who still doesn't get it, later on there's a scene in which Jarvis attends the opening of Dani's play, and his applause is out of sync with that of the other members of the audience. Not good, that. My favorite bit of unhinged nonsense from Jarvis involves his encounters with a coyote (yep, a coyote). Early in the film he goes for a jog at night. He reaches the top of a hill, stops for a moment, and sees a coyote. The coyote stares at him, Jarvis looks scared, the coyote bares its teeth, and Jarvis runs off. Later, after he's beaten a Hollywood mogul to within an inch of his life, Jarvis leaves the guy's mansion, runs away, ends up on the same cliff, and comes across the same coyote (yep, the same coyote). This time Jarvis stands up to the animal; he and the coyote then become instant buddies and frolic down the hill (if I'm lying I'm dying). See, at this point Jarvis has given himself over to his animal nature, and the coyote recognizes this, thus they...aw, forget it.
What about Hatcher's character? Oh, man, given her actions here, Dani must the dumbest actress in Hollywood history. Remember that old joke -- seems like I read it on one of William Goldman's books -- about the starlet who was so stupid she slept with the writer? Well, Dani goes it one better by sleeping with a writer who's never had anything published. But she had a good reason for doing it, because at the end of the movie she implies that she knew Jarvis could write a great novel which would later become a great film, but only if she first slept with him, provided him with material, then made him insanely jealous by sleeping with the director, and later helped him assault said director. O-kay. You'd think somebody that clairvoyant would take the easy route to financial gain and play the lottery, but there's just no understanding some people.
Here's something even better: Jarvis's book goes from unwritten manuscript to published novel to in-production film adaptation in about the same amount of time it'll take you to read this review. Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but not much. He moves back to California and starts writing a couple of days later. At the same time, Dani is rehearsing for a play (the last few minutes of the play are shown, and it's just awful -- it's some kind of love story that's climaxed by an exploding television set), and the play closes right before she's cast in the movie. Come on. And can you imagine what kind of movie it will turn out to be? The project is so hot the producers are just dying to audition every unknown actress in Hollywood! (The producers and director fawn all over Dani, going on and on about how she's guaranteed to bring in major box office. Yeah, right. She's been in one crappy play and a commercial for bottled water. I can't imagine that leading to lines out the theater door and around the block. Besides, if the movie these guys are making is as bad as the movie they're in, it will probably debut as an in-flight movie, in which case people will be pulling a Goldfinger and trying to squeeze out the plane's windows.)
One more thing: Who funds all these California bungalow complexes populated by aspiring writers and actors? Before he makes his sale Jarvis has no so source of income, and I doubt Dani is making much starring in crappy plays and commercials, yet they live in pretty nice apartments. It's no big deal, but I was just wondering.
The technical quality of this disc does a fine job of recreating the original late night cable television viewing experience. The transfer is grainy in the darker scenes and washed-out in the brighter ones. Artifacts and moiré patterns abound, and there's abundant evidence of damage in the source elements (dirt, scratches, and specks). Both audio options are weak and anemic. The stereo track sounds like a mono mix, while the 5.1 track sounds like a stereo mix. The only extras are for other Ardustry releases, all of which look like better viewing choices than this movie.
Fool me twice, shame on me. The Cool Surface was underwhelming back in 1994, and it's twice as underwhelming today. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say this movie was shot before Patrick's success with T2 and Hatcher's success with Lois and Clark, but sat unreleased for a couple of years before it hit cable and video. (I suppose Hatcher's comeback is responsible for this DVD release. Yay.) Anyone wanting a peek at Terri's assets (heh-heh) would be better served watching Heaven's Prisoners, which isn't by any means a great film, but it's a lot better than this one.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Ardustry Home Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated R