A simple tale of "one dumb move," updated for a couple of extravagant displays of Los Angeles in the Eighties. (Fatal Attraction is the New York view, you might say.) John Frankenheimer starts with an aerial sprawl and then dives closer to magnify the cracks in the marriage of a rich couple (Roy Scheider, Ann-Margret): The wife is running for council, the husband has a construction company and a young mistress (Kelly Preston) on the side. Scheider goes to see Preston and finds instead a gun pointed at his face -- turns out it's all a ruse, the hooded blackmailers have footage of the illicit pair and demand an opulent sum to bury it. Guilt weighs on the protagonist, so a confession emerges following a political rally where Ann-Margret toasts the virtues of "being on a first basis with the truth." This is Elmore Leonard's city through and through, although the key to the vision of marital therapy is Chabrol's Innocents with Dirty Hands, the svelte Gallic sardonicism caustically transposed to bulbous South Californian sleaze. John Glover as a porn-theater owner with delusions of auteur (he dons a Nicholas Ray-styled eyepatch and trains his camera on "some weird friends," yielding glimpses of Amber Lynn, Ron Jeremy and Jamie Gillis) gives the uncanny impression of floating on grease; Clarence Williams III knows how to improvise when a snitching girlfriend (Vanity) and a huge teddy bear are in the same room, while Robert Trebor stammers, whines, and sweats expertly. (Frankenheimer cannot resist using such exceptional clowns as compositional elements, and so one wide shot finds all three lined inside a car, with Glover's outstretched middle finger capping the deep-focus diagonal.) Such gags -- the role the IRS plays in modern blackmail, say -- are what raise hackwork executed con brio to an enjoyably degenerate variation of the director's own annihilating Seconds (with some French Connection II tossed in). With Lonny Chapman, and Doug McClure.
--- Fernando F. Croce