Passion. Guilt. Justice.
Gina Gershon's once-promising Hollywood career continues its inexorable plummet into cheesy direct-to-video oblivion.
Then again, once you've done Showgirls, even cheesy direct-to-video oblivion is a step up.
Facts of the Case
Psychiatrist Lila Coletti (Gina Gershon, Bound, the aforementioned Showgirls) finds herself in the midst of a personal crisis—her philandering ex-husband Paul (Nick Boraine) is dragging her into family court to seize custody of their two young daughters. Paul's leverage: he's a millionaire playboy with a stylish pad in the suburbs, while Lila's job as staff headshrinker at a local prison makes her an unfit mother, seeing that she (a) is on call at all hours of the night, (b) hangs out with sociopathic wackos all day, and (c) has an unfortunate tendency to invite recent parolees over to her place to do routine home maintenance in her off hours. Seriously, if you were the judge, how would you rule?
Lila has every reason to wish Paul dead. This being a low-budget crime thriller, she should be more careful what she wishes for. Paul and his bimbo du jour turn up murdered, and raped with a foreign object and murdered, respectively (at least it didn't happen the other way around), all while the Coletti children are at Dad's house. Of course, every scrap of available evidence appears to implicate Lila as the most likely suspect. Lucky for our lady shrink, she just happens to be sweating up the sheets with the lead police investigator, a grim-visaged chap sporting a brush cut and the only-in-B-movies moniker Macy Kobacek (Michael Biehn, obviously mistaking Lila for Sarah Connor). Equally lucky for Lila, Macy doesn't immediately recuse himself from the case, even though that would seem to be the ethical thing to do—not to mention the best way to preserve one's job, police pension, professional reputation, and freedom from prosecution for obstruction of justice.
Exercising her considerable feminine wiles, Lila manages to persuade Kobacek of an alternate theory of the crime. This one involves Ed Baikman (Sean Patrick Flanery, longing for his salad days as TV's Young Indiana Jones), the patricidal nutbar whose release from the hoosegow she only recently signed off, and who suffers from a decidedly unhealthy Lila fixation. One need not have studied psychoanalysis to see that Baikman is a couple briquettes shy of a barbecue, mentally speaking, but he has an alibi—his doting sister says Ed was home all evening on the night in question, and you know the cops always believe the doting sister. Plus, every new clue that surfaces spins the spotlight of incrimination away from Baikman, and back onto our fetching Freudian with the sleepy eyelids.
The question—in case you haven't figured it out by now, in which event, please surrender your Encyclopedia Brown decoder ring—is: whodunit? All I can tell you is, someone's going to jail, someone's going to the morgue, and someone's going to the kitchen for a sandwich, a soda, and some No-Doz. (That last would be me.)
You've seen this movie before. Not this exact movie, perhaps, but a few dozen other movies just like it. Borderline is another entry in that subgenre of mystery flicks wherein the lead character is (apparently) wrongly suspected of a crime and looks increasingly guilty at every turn, while the filmmakers attempt to build tension by making the audience wonder whether the protagonist is really the culprit, after all. This general plot outline, when executed with flair and skill, can make for a cracking good thriller—the mid-'80s Clint Eastwood vehicle Tightrope being one prime example.
Borderline is not executed with flair and skill. (Films that begin with dream-sequence flashbacks to the protagonist's abusive childhood rarely are.) The atmosphere here is fragrant with that "When do we get paid again?" air of desperation and ennui familiar to connoisseurs of late-night cable fodder. Offering little opportunity for genuine surprise or excitement, the movie just sort of trundles along, waiting to be over.
Worst of all, the predictable, endlessly derivative screenplay by David Loucks—the man responsible in part for Eddie, one of the most execrable sports movies ever unfettered—comes riddled with potholes you could lose Lila Coletti's doddering vomit-green Volvo in. Example: her therapist blabs Lila's entire psychological history to Kobacek the detective-slash-lover—never mind the fact that she could be stripped of her license for divulging a patient's confidential information without permission, and especially to a police officer sans warrant. Example two: at one point, a character strolls into a jailhouse using an assumed name. Don't they usually check ID in those places?
That's not to say Borderline is utterly without merit. For a formula crime drama made on a shoestring budget, it's put together with relative precision by director Evelyn Maude Purcell (Nobody's Fool). Purcell clearly picked up a trick or two from ex-husband Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), whose debut film, Caged Heat, Purcell produced. She knows how to frame a scene and craft a narrative, and she knows how to lend aesthetic interest without an overabundance of film-school legerdemain. Purcell pries enough suspense out of the tepid screenplay that what could have been an excruciating movie-watching experience is instead merely dreary and banal. I suspect, based on this one effort, that Purcell could probably dish up a pretty decent thriller, given adequate funds and a script that isn't duct-taped together out of random scrapings from Brian De Palma's wastepaper basket.
What Purcell can't do is coax captivating performances out of her actors, all of whom appear to be suffering from jet lag after the transatlantic flight to South Africa, where Borderline was filmed. (I can just imagine that travel brochure: "Cape Town: Make movies. Buy diamonds. Cheap.") Gina Gershon, who seemed like a rising star in the Wachowski Brothers' sensational Bound, is now the female Keanu Reeves, and I don't mean in a Matrix sort of way. She owns all of one facial expression, a tabula rasa that can best be described as "noncommittal." On rare occasion, Gershon twists her downturned lips into something that looks like the beginnings of a smile, or a grimace, or evidence of gastrointestinal distress—but one can't be certain which. She also uses a single vocal timbre, a flat husky monotone that would sound equally emotive reading a Shakespearean soliloquy or the luncheon specials at Denny's. Because Gershon invests zero passion in her character, the viewer doesn't much care whether she's incarcerated, exonerated, or evaporated. Pairing Gershon with Michael Biehn, that stolid, square-jawed paragon among leading men you can pick up for spare change, ensures a romance with all the flavor and combustibility of lukewarm tap water. As the ostensible villain of the piece, Sean Patrick Flanery (funny, he still doesn't look like Harrison Ford) mumbles and twitches like Norman Bates on a Quaalude bender. The rest of the cast is anonymous, lifeless, and forgettable. (What were their names, again?)
Another of the bargain-catalog spectaculars Columbia TriStar churns out like chocolate chip cookies from the Keebler elves, Borderline sees the light of day in a respectable rendition on DVD. The quality of the anamorphic transfer (ported over from a high-definition master according to the keep case blurb) is excellent for a low-priority, direct-to-video release. The picture is clean, sharp, and absent all but the barest minimum of print defects and digital artifacting. The Dolby Digital surround track, though not called upon to show off much of its expansion capability, offers a clearly defined and noise-free listen. Francophones can also enjoy the main feature with a stereo track in the language of love. Polyglots of all persuasions may peruse the usual Columbia plethora of foreign-language subtitles. (That, or aficionados of world cuisine can watch the movie with captions matching tonight's take-out dinner.)
The only extras included are three bonus trailers, two in widescreen (Darkness Falls and So Close) and one in full screen (Sniper II: Tom Berenger, your life is calling—long distance).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite its title, this film has nothing to do with the Madonna song of the same name. Not the Joni Mitchell or Kansas songs, either. And if the names Joni Mitchell and Kansas mean nothing to you, it's past your bedtime.
Borderline commits one of the most frustrating sins of which a film can be guilty: it's just good enough (or just not quite hideous enough, depending on your perspective) that we can't turn it off before it's over, lest we miss the best part. This movie doesn't ever get to a "best part," but director Evelyn Maude Purcell crams enough texture into it that we retain a glimmer of hope almost to the last scene.
Better that a terrible flick should thoroughly persuade us of its terribleness early on, so we can get up from the couch and go wash the car. Borderline tempts with the carrot of potential, only to leave us with dashed expectations and a dirty car.
The Judge finds this film guilty of pushing his love over the borderline, and sentences everyone involved to six months' hard labor in a South African diamond mine. All proceeds going to the Court, of course.
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