THE SETUP: A secret agent called The Eye (Ewan McGregor) is ordered by his boss (k.d. lang) to spy on the mysterious Joanna Eris (Ashley Judd). Paralyzed by grief in the years since his wife disappeared with their young daughter, The Eye channels his depression into an obsession with Joanna after he sees her kill a man in cold blood. He follows her through an absurd, if alluring, range of outfits and wigs as she embarks on a murderous crime spree around the country trying, he rationalizes, to “protect” her in a way that he could not protect his own little girl.
RAY: You have to wonder how a budding star like Ashley Judd winds up in bad, pretentious bunkum like this. Even if it was the number one film on an admittedly slow opening weekend. To call the fourth film by Stephan Elliott, the director of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a piece of piss-elegant codswallop is to be very, very kind.
KAREN: After sitting through to the numbing end, I’m in no mood to be kind. It is total, unmitigated crap-o-rama, although I will say that Ashley certainly looks luscious in lingerie. I occupied myself trying to decide whether the high point of the movie came when Ashley stabbed a man while clad in matching silk bra and panties, or when she shot a cop while reclining in a white lace teddy and creamy thigh-high stockings.
RAY: Actually, if you stick around through the credits, you’ll catch another high point, which is when you discover you’ve been stuck in a 1998 production. Then you understand: Judd had the Eye on her before she hit it big with Double Jeopardy. The filmmakers try diligently to create a chilly, surreal and highly paranoid planet, but Eye of the Beholder is, in the end, relentlessly incoherent. They should have left it in the can.
KAREN: After my screening at a New York multiplex, a guy stood up and screamed, “I want my money back!”
RAY: When the two finally meet, it’s worse than the insufferably postponed meet-cute between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle.
KAREN: Only the locations change; here the insufferable meet-cute takes place over easy in a coffee shop in Frostbite Falls, Alaska.
RAY: The problem is that in this case, Joanna doesn’t even know The Eye exists before that meeting. If she had been given some tantalizing clue, if there were some sort of mutual and reciprocal stalking, then maybe we’d have had some kind of suspense going on. But alas, no. And unfortunately, neither actor gives the film the charge it needs. No matter what black-widow intonations Judd puts on or what clothes she takes off, there’s no heat and very little sexual presence. And then there’s McGregor, famously willing to let all his substantial talents hang out in The Velvet Goldmine and Trainspotting; here, he’s a milquetoast who talks to the walls.
KAREN: Too true. In one scene, when his sexy gunslinger is in the bath next door, he’s so pathetic, he practically licks the walls. He’s probably imagining the murderess wreaking havoc with a bottle of Mr. Bubble.
RAY: There actually are some juicy themes and sub-Hitchcock notions about voyeurism bound up inside this mess; but unfortunately, there was no real script in the hands of the beholder or the beholdee. In the 1980 novel the movie is based on, The Eye was meant to be more than middle-aged. Maybe even Gene Hackman-aged. Then the father avenging his lost daughter would make more sense Ashley could be his daughter. But the sweet-faced McGregor looks even younger than the feline Ms. Judd.
KAREN: But you don’t need the father-daughter dynamic to make some interesting points about the danger of playing “savior.”
RAY: This movie lost whatever chance it had to make an interesting point when it started introducing elements like the ghost of The Eye’s daughter, who pops up to chastise him and enlighten him with such observations as “Daddy, I’m dead.” (Oddly, we’re never clued in with enough back story to explain the details of his daughter’s vanishing, so her significance is up for grabs.) The Eye seems to feel like he can redeem her disappearance and himself only by acts of sacrifice. But with Ewan looking like a shaggy-haired slacker who should be writing code when he’s not snowboarding, none of this registers; he seems barely old enough to spawn. At best, the lost little girl’s plaintive messages could kickstart an auditorium into giggles; but the room where I saw the film was as cold as a freshly-exed lover’s voice on the phone.
KAREN: Maybe The Eye should have just given her a jingle. He’s desperate to “will” Ashley’s character into loving him, her unknown shadowy guardian angel. That sort of got me: How many times have we all, in relationships, wished that the power of our feelings would be enough to engender the kind of passionate love or desire we want in another?
RAY: Just last night, if you must know. But we promised to knock it off after a couple of strong drinks, call it a night and stay friends.
KAREN: I don’t think we need to go there, Ray.
RAY: Why, you think the movie’s more interesting? I beg to differ.
KAREN: I will say that it made me think about the way people project rich emotional scenarios onto other people they barely know. In this case, it’s in the form of a savior fantasy. But can a relationship ever work where one person is determined to “fix” the other? People can only “fix” themselves. Or go to Al-Anon meetings.
RAY: Forget tough love this man’s affections are bullet-proof.
KAREN: It’s not just that he’s addicted to her; he’s addicted to the pain of loss, which can be as hard to kick as the craving for the happiness you once had.
RAY: I’d love to see a movie that’s both creepy and convincing with these themes. And there just happens to be a masterpiece that fits the bill: 1973’s Don’t Look Now. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are a couple whose daughter dies tragically in the film’s first moments, and they take off for wet, foggy Venice to try to prevent the daughter’s loss from killing their love. Sutherland has the premonition of something awful yet to come, and in Nicolas Roeg’s baroque telling, memory and passion are beautifully intertwined. There’s also a remarkable lovemaking scene between Christie and Sutherland, cross-cut with their later preparations to go out for the evening. You’d swear nothing could tear them apart, and you’d swear they were having sex in front of your eyes.
KAREN: But all you can do during this movie is swear, period. It’s not a question of who can save whom, but of, “Why on earth should we care if this loony-tunes stalker is hot for a remorseless serial killer?”
RAY: I’m sure the actors’ checks cleared.
KAREN: I’m sure that’s the only adult way to look at their relationship.
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