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Picks and Pans Review: Grace Quigley

updated 06/10/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/10/1985 01:00AM

In 1973 Katharine Hepburn read a script treatment by A. Martin Zweiback. It was a black comedy about an eccentric elderly lady and a contract killer who team up to mercifully "give the rub" to senior citzens who are tired of life. Hepburn loved the idea and touted the script at various studios, all of which balked at underwriting such a peculiar venture. Undaunted, Hepburn partly financed the movie and brought Grace Ouigley to the screen. If only it were the triumph that determination deserves. This movie is, however, a muddle of confusing plot turns, lousy timing and contrived joviality. Ouigley begins when Hepburn witnesses hit man Nick Nolte offing her unctuous landlord. The wily Hepburn corners Nolte, blackmailing him down to a bargain-basement contract murder. When Hepburn tells him she is to be the victim, the guilt-ridden assassin scurries to his $75-an-hour psychologist with psychosomatic pains and a nosebleed. Hepburn, meanwhile, inexplicably has a change of heart, deciding to stay alive and dedicate herself to providing the "ultimate solution," with Nolte's help, for old, lonely people. Soon Hepburn is managing a booming business and the orphaned Nolte is calling her "Mom." They provide a painless demise for a frail oldster, played by the sweetly deadpan William Duell, who wants to be a tenant of the hereafter before he has to pay another month's rent. They also do a carbon monoxide poisoning (at a group discount) for some friends who exit singing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. Then Hepburn orders Nolte to do in a rat of a cab driver just because he has stolen her shoe. She tells him, "Son, think of it as pest control." Up to this point, Quigley has had its genuinely funny moments. But in the last third of the movie, Zweiback and director Anthony (The Lion in Winter) Harvey lose control. They skitter wildly away from their offbeat, socially conscious comedy and end up with a clunky farce, complete with a high-speed hearse chase. Not even Hepburn and Nolte can keep the film from toppling off the edge. (PG)

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