Richard Gere, Kim Basinger

Want to track how well your watch keeps time? Go see this dud of a thriller, and you'll be checking your wrist constantly.

A half-cocked Hitchcock wannabe, the film never seems to end, zapping you with plot twists, each more ridiculous and farfetched than the last and each with a hole so big you would think the script had been worked over by the Washington Redskins' offensive line.

Gere plays a San Francisco psychiatrist, who is treating a pouty young woman with a history of incest (Uma Thurman) and, through her, begins haying steamy sex—but with only one onscreen scene—with her va-va-va-voomish older sister (Basinger). Sis's husband is a sadistic gangster (Eric Roberts) and, given that Basinger gets a very special twinkle in her eye when he says with mock exasperation, "You kill me," it comes as no surprise when she does just that. Gere aids her in working up an insanity plea, and that's when things get complicated and nasty—and terminally tedious.

Director Phil (State of Grace) Joanou borrows heavily from '40s film noir for style and atmosphere but fails to duplicate those movies' hard-edge snap and speed. Basinger, a devotee of the wrinkled-brow and crinkled-nose school of acting, is particularly unimpressive, and Gere seems muted, showing little of the ingratiating pizzazz he mustered for Pretty Woman. (R)

Denzel Washington, Sarita Choudhury

A witty and fresh romantic comedy from director Mira (Salaam Bombay!) Nair, Mississippi Masala takes its title from Indian cooking: Masala is a hot mix of multicolor spices. Appropriately the movie is about the heat generated when different races and cultures collide in small-town Mississippi.

Demetrius and Mina are in love, and their families are not happy about it. Demetrius (Washington), a worthy guy with his own carpet-cleaning business, is black. Mina (Choudhury), a restless young woman, temporarily working as a motel maid, is Indian but by way of Uganda, her birthplace, and later England, where her family took refuge after Idi Amin booted Asians out of Uganda in 1972. Now she and her parents have come to Greenwood, Miss., to join Indian friends who have taken over the running of a small roadside motel.

Masala is also about the notion of diaspora—Demetrius is an African-American who has never been to Africa, and Mina is an Indian who has never been to India—and about finding one's home within oneself and with those you love rather than in a specific place. That may sound like a mouthful, but once you get past an overlong prologue about Mina's family leaving Uganda, the film plays with idiosyncratic charm, thanks to a strong cast and Sooni Taraporevala's character-driven screenplay.

Washington's performance in Masala will make a believer out of anyone who ever doubted that he is an A-list movie star and sex symbol. This man is debonair. And magnetic. And he has an innate sweetness like Henry Fonda's but with even more steel. Choudhury, a newcomer to movies, starts out unsteadily hut improves as the movie progresses. Roshan Seth and Sharmila Tagore are moving as Mina's parents, and Charles (Roc) Dutton is hilarious as Demetrius's blowhard buddy. It's definitely worth dipping into this melting pot to sample Masala's tangy stew. (R)

Sissy Spacek, William Petersen

When tumbleweed Joey Coalter (Petersen) receives an invitation to the wedding of his wife, Chris (Spacek), he dashes back to his rural hometown to stop the proceedings. Turns out Chris is no longer his wife; tired of Joey's protracted absences, she has obtained a divorce—and the house, the ear and a reliable fiancé (Brian Kerwin). It's not that she didn't love Joey, an itinerant worker, Chris explains; it's just that he was never around for her or their daughter, Beth (Olivia Burnette)—he was out West or in Alaska or Bali.

Wherever he's been, the comic and romantic possibilities of the situation have utterly escaped the filmmakers. Instead they have Joey threaten to break Chris's new thermopane bedroom window, try to bust up the wedding rehearsal while chairs are hurled in his path and ply the groom-to-be with tequila. Hard Promises, which has a cheesy, stage-set look and plays like a TV movie, can best he described as aerobic. Characters are constantly running, climbing trees, jumping from trees, stamping their feet and throwing chairs and fits.

Spacek—this is meant in the nicest possible way—is simply not convincing as a screaming ninny who can't trust herself to be alone with her former husband. Petersen looks and acts like a young Lee Majors. No way could this man send Spacek into a sweat and a swivet. (PG)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Joanne Kaufman.