Sony // 1992 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // January 25th, 2003
Apparently, it's in a pool of their own sick.
Bruce is the kind of writer who's determined to live on principles instead of food, and under a cardboard box instead of a living wage paying studio contract. He spends his days pitching his high-minded mental masturbation to low browed studio executives who turn catatonic whenever Big B mentions things like "character" and "participation points." As a sideline, Bruce likes to play witty sexual banter games with ex-lover/current agent, the smothered in Asian style Serena Black. He also dabbles in real estate; selling murder houses is his specialty. When the muse once again requires him to be homeless, he moves into a blood filled, dilapidated mansion of doom. Of course, the first thing pal Brucey does is rent a room to Eddie Hale, who's in L.A. to try and make it as a combination Eraserhead/David Byrne impersonator. The two get along swimmingly. Eddie lives his quiet, creepy as crackers life. Bruce screams at him intermittently. When our financially strapped scribbler begins to develop a potential potboiler about his domicile of death (seems a perfect family unit was vivisected right smack dab in the middle of Bruce's current squat), Serena and Eddie become interested. Serena wants a mega book deal and offers Bru some hot monkey love. He rejects her on purely artistic merits. Eddie is also intrigued, but he's not craving ape amore. No, you see, he's the killer. He just wants to fact check Bruce's murder memoir before it hits Amazon.com.
Where Sleeping Dogs Lie could have been a good film. It has Tom Sizemore in a performance of (mostly) understated dread and subtle dementia. It centers on the type of rundown Hollywood manor that screams secret decadence and eerie decay. It avoids several pitfalls in standard thriller plotting by allowing time (perhaps too much time) for characters to develop and interact. But then it goes and wet farts it all away by meandering past obvious plot point prospects and indulging idiosyncratic performances. Dylan Dermot Mulroney McDermott McFly is a perfect example. His idea of brooding is to look a little sleepy and his line readings can only be described in terms of decibels (high OR low). Sharon Stone seems edited in from another movie, perhaps the Sino-Soviet version of Basic Instinct where, instead of being a deadly ice pick wielding sex killer, Catherine Tramell is a Tinseltown talent scout obsessed with Hello Kitty. During their scenes together, you half expect Dylan to sulk off to find Jeanne Tripplehorn so he can date rape her. Only Tom Sizemore maintains a distinct, pitch perfect persona (until the last 20 minutes, that is) making his mystery man sympathetic and sinister at the same time. Director Charles Finch obviously suffers from a severe case of premature plot interjection. Sizemore shows up about 15 minutes in and his dramatic reveal comes with over 35 minute left in the film. Any question about why the narrative falters and flounders is clearly answered by these two timing blunders alone.
But at approximately the one-hour mark, the movie completely falls apart. In a pivotal scene, Tom Sizemore's Eddie has left and Dylan's Bruce ransacks his room. He comes up with a Walkman. He sits and listens to the tape and what it contains is genuinely creepy (doubly since we have previously seen Sizemore doing elaborate bed bondage rituals to it) and reminiscent of a similar sequence in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. So the truth is out -- Sizemore is a psycho -- and the movie now has its chance. It can take off in a completely different and original direction, making up for all the endless precursory scenes we have had to sit through. All Sizemore and McDermott have to do is band together, killer and writer, to tell the tale of how he massacres families and gets away with it. Their terrible, tentative alliance will result in a gripping, twisted take on Hollywood and the literary business, suggesting the true-life saga of Norman Mailer and Jack Henry Abbott. But no, 100% uh-uh. McDermott freaks out like a braised ferret and confronts Sizemore, who, oddly, doesn't disembowel him and squish around naked in the human variety meats. They yell; Sizemore breaks the quiet creepiness he has given off the entire film and turns into Jack Scagnetti with a running tab at the local anger management center. They argue some more. Then they play cards. They play house like a closeted homo-psycho-sexual Odd Couple (can a semi-talented, highly strung author live together with a family filleting serial maniac without driving each other crazy?). Eventually the police get involved, all plot lines fizzle to dead ends and a trip to the desert comes literally out of nowhere. Where Sleeping Dogs Lie is not even a good formulaic thriller. It's devoid of violence and so sloppy in standard pacing that it generates miniscule suspense and even less interest.
The DVD presentation from Columbia TriStar is just as mediocre. Offered in a digitally remastered anamorphic widescreen transfer, the image onscreen is way too soft in the mansion scenes, way too sharp in Serena's black and white office decor. You can tell someone went a little heavy with the contrast on this one. When a red tie Sizemore is wearing stands out like a flashing emergency warning sign, you know there are color and enhancement issues. On the aural end, we get nothing special or interesting. It's Dolby Digital Stereo at its most bland and lifeless. Throw in a few trailers and that's it, that's your package.
Ten years ago no one could have guessed the future success waiting for the cast of this snooze inducing bow-wow. Stone would go on to be the template for all manipulative, sexual maniacs with her panty-less peepshow in Verhoeven's vice filled viewfinder. Sizemore would measure his menace to become an A-list Hollywood featured player, equally at home saving Pvt. Ryan or beating Ben Affleck to death. And McDermott would win praise while he watched Lara Flynn Boyle waste away to nothing in the mega-hit for ABC's The Practice. But a decade before, the three of them were struggling and somehow got conned into making Where Sleeping Dogs Lie. And Columbia TriStar should have taken to heart the sage old sentiment inherent in the title. The only thing rustled up when this cinematic cur was stirred was a bad case of movie mange.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated R