Sony // 1991 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Lacey Worrell (Retired) // September 24th, 2004
Past passion. Past terror. Past murder.
A social worker goes looking for trouble and finds it. So will you, if you actually spend any money on this film.
Laura (Natasha Richardson, Maid in Manhattan) is a social worker who has just taken on a new client, Ben (Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner), recently released from prison after having been convicted of killing his pregnant wife. Laura's attraction to Ben leads her to reinvestigate the murder, introducing her to witnesses reluctant to speak about the gruesome events of 15 years ago. As Laura and Ben's relationship grows, Laura is increasingly confused as to who is being honest with her and who isn't.
This is one of those frustrating movies that has a great premise but is poor in its execution. Maybe it is the cheesy suspense music that plays as Ben offers Laura a strange mushroom he finds growing on a log and she sensually bites into it, not knowing whether it is poisonous or not. (No, I'm not kidding, that really does happen.) Perhaps it is that Laura's motivation for investigating the crime is unclear. Other than the fact that she adores the guy and he keeps her on edge, there is no compelling reason to reopen the case.
Natasha Richardson's character in Nell annoyed me, and she continues to annoy here. Nothing against the actress herself, it's just the characters she tends to play. Laura is mousy and flat, with no qualities about her that would make a member of the audience want to root for her. She is reminiscent of the Menendez brothers' groupies, who followed the brothers slavishly to the courtroom every day, despite their bogus self-defense claim.
Rutger Hauer remains as great-looking as he did in Ladyhawke, but other than having to act menacing and growl his dialogue, he is not given much to do here. American Splendor fans should look closely for a very young Paul Giamatti as a slow-talking stable hand.
The violent conclusion of this film is just this side of gratuitous, although it involves an unforeseen twist. There are few things that are sacred any more, but visibly pregnant women being carved up on camera should be one of them. Not to mention that Past Midnight resorts to the clichéd is-he-or-isn't-he-dead ending so beloved by suspense films of the early '90s. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle did it so much better.
The quality of the sound and video is about the same as everything else: It could be much better, but no effort appears to have been made. In fact, it is difficult to understand why this film received a DVD release in the first place when its overall presentation is so lackluster.
Hauer and Richardson do possess some chemistry, because Ben and Laura have a great love scene, but that's two minutes out of 100. For the other 98, I recommend wandering into the kitchen, making some popcorn, cleaning out your closets, clipping your cat's toenails...you get the picture.
The only time you should watch Past Midnight is past midnight, when your local network runs it against the infomercial where Erik Estrada implores people to purchase cheap swampland in Florida.
Even Lifetime, the "channel for women," known for its horribly acted but engrossing movies, would throw this case right out of court.
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Scales of Justice
* Bottom 100 Discs: #8
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R