From his bedroom window, Judge Michael Rankins can see Steve Guttenberg's career vanishing into the distance.
Our review of The Bedroom Window (Anchor Bay Release), published July 25th, 2000, is also available.
The secret they share will drive them apart.
Facts of the Case
Hotshot construction firm junior executive Terry Lambert (Steve Guttenberg, Three Men And A Baby) takes home an extra-special door prize from the company party—his employer's slinky French trophy wife, Sylvia (Isabelle Huppert, I Heart Huckabees).
During a pause in their night of passion, Sylvia witnesses an attempted rape from Terry's bedroom window. Wanting to help nail the assailant—who brutalized and murdered another victim that same evening—but fearful of exposing his and Sylvia's affair, Terry tells investigating detectives Quirke (Carl Lumbly, Alias) and Jessup (Frederick Coffin, Identity) that he saw the attack, reporting Sylvia's observations as his own and leaving her presence out of the story altogether.
As anyone who's ever read an Agatha Christie novel knows, truth will out. When Terry's deception comes to light, not only does the ungrateful Sylvia abandon him, but he also becomes the prime suspect in a string of violent attacks committed by the mysterious red-haired villain. Only if Terry can track down the real killer—with the aid of Denise, the victim of the original assault (Elizabeth McGovern, The House Of Mirth)—can he escape the view from another bedroom window…one with iron bars across it.
Writer-director Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential is, in the opinion of this Judge, one of the dozen or so finest motion pictures of the past decade. Upon viewing the tepid mess of a potboiler that The Bedroom Window labors to be, I can only (a) wonder whether Mr. Hanson has a less talented identical twin, whom he permitted in the early years of his career to append his name to lackluster projects such as Window, or (b) thank the cinema deities that Hanson figured out what filmmaking was all about in the ten years between this paint-by-numbers exercise and its illustrious, Oscar-winning successor.
That's not to say that The Bedroom Window is bereft of entertainment value. Were it a Lifetime cable movie-of-the-week, it would make for an innocuous—albeit utterly predictable and suspense-free—two hours of television viewing. But as a film noir wannabe, especially from a creator whose grasp of the genre is as firm as L.A. Confidential demonstrates, it's pretty disappointing.
Let's start with the travesty of casting that pervades Window's three leading roles. Whoever thought Steve Guttenberg, a likeable enough presence in light comic fare, had the gravitas to play the dramatic lead in a crime thriller is either tone-deaf, or has the surname Guttenberg. It's tough to overstate how wrong Guttenberg is for this role—he appears incapable of reading even the most emotionally intense line without the trace of a goofy grin playing across his wide-eyed mug. We never believe for a second that his character is in, or even feels, genuine danger. Guttenberg makes the entire exercise seem like a fraternity prank.
It doesn't help that Guttenberg is placed opposite the fresh-faced McGovern—who, in the wake of what would be for any human being a life-changing assault, projects all the terror of a woman waiting in line at the corner grocery—and the incomprehensible Huppert, for whom the English language is a distant rumor and subtitles are wardrobe essentials. (In all seriousness, Huppert mumbles every line as though she attempted to memorize her dialogue phonetically, and failed.) The casting executive who brought these three together should have been handed his or her hat and an Amtrak ticket to Des Moines before production began.
Not that the actors get much support from Hanson's script (adapted from a novel by Anne Holden), which couples a surfeit of awkward, stilted dialogue with the very definition of an idiot plot. (In the lexicon of legendary film critic Roger Ebert, an idiot plot is one in which the story continues to move forward only because the characters are idiots.) An astute viewer could fairly well outline the rest of the film after the first ten minutes. Guttenberg and McGovern's characters spend the last third of the movie engaged in a series of behaviors that no sane people in the same situation would commit, simply because the plot needs for these things to be done. As noted earlier, it's the kind of turgid, melodramatic storytelling that serves a purpose in cheesy telefilms, but makes a viewer who paid good money for the privilege want to hurl objects at the screen. Or just hurl, period.
The news isn't all bad, fortunately. Even at this nascent stage of his career, Hanson shows promise as a director, moving his preposterous plot along with economical pacing and a minimum of stylistic excess. As stupidly as their woefully miscast characters behave, one must acknowledge that Guttenberg and McGovern are cute and pleasant to watch, despite the fact that the sexual chemistry between them offers all the heat and spice of day-old oatmeal. A veritable parade of quality character actors—including Mark Margolis, Maury Chaykin, Kate McGregor-Stewart, and Wallace Shawn in a scene-stealing turn as a defense attorney—pops in to contribute nice little bits of onscreen business. (Shawn pulls a courtroom stunt that director Jonathan Lynn would swipe to more humorous effect five years later in My Cousin Vinny.)
All told, director Hanson's effort was sufficiently competent to keep me from pushing the eject button. It was not sufficiently successful to prevent me from wishing I had those two hours back.
This barebones DVD release from Lionsgate provides adequate visual and auditory context for the film. The picture quality is serviceable—grainy in spots (not an uncommon characteristic in modest-budget films from the '80s), but overall, clean and clear. The balance of the flat mono soundtrack occasionally left something to be desired, as at certain key moments the clichéd, screechy score by former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve and synthesizer whiz Patrick Gleeson bellowed ear-splittingly from the speakers. In general, however, the disc presents the film well.
No extras here. I'm guessing Curtis Hanson was too busy making better movies to want to revisit this one with a commentary. I'm betting that Lionsgate could have snagged Steve Guttenberg for cheap, though. It's not as though his phone is ringing off the hook these days.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Aside from Barry Levinson's classic Diner, The Bedroom Window might be the best movie ever made in Baltimore by a director other than John Waters. I'm not sure that's a compliment.
The Bedroom Window is just close enough to actual entertainment to make one wish that it were a better movie. Something more like, say, L.A. Confidential.
If you like Hitchcockian noir thrillers, and might be curious to see how someone not named De Palma could screw one up—or if you've already seen tonight's movie on Lifetime—The Bedroom Window might help you fill a lonely evening. Of course, so would a date. But that's your issue.
Clearly, this defendant is guilty. I don't even need any courtroom shenanigans from Wallace Shawn to help me see the light. All parties involved are sentenced to a weekend at a Steve Guttenberg film retrospective.
With that, we're adjourned.
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