Picks and Pans Review: Apology

updated 07/28/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/28/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

HBO (Sun., July 27, 9 p.m. ET)

D-

Sometimes, while watching movies of a certain confusing quality, I am driven to talk to myself. Job-related stress, you know. Apology kept me muttering throughout. Near the start, you see a bloody body, the victim of a serial killer who specializes in beating gay men and cutting off a certain body part. The cops use various words to describe that part: "wing-wang," "baseball bat," "shlang." I groan. "But hey," I tell myself, "don't be rolling your eyes already." Maybe, I think, they're just trying to make the stock movie murderer inventively grotesque. Maybe they're trying to make some high-minded comment on bigotry against gays. Maybe this isn't as gratuitous as it seems. "Wrong," I say before long. The so-called shlang murderer is heard from only once, captured quickly and never seen. He plays an infinitesimal and expendable role in the tale. So why go to the trouble of making him so graphically sicko when the plot turns out to be a different story? But I keep watching. "It's your job," I remind myself. The real story here is Lesley Ann (Choose Me) Warren's. She's a performance artist who sets up a telephone answering machine and then plasters posters everywhere, giving New Yorkers the machine's numbers so they can "tell people what you have done wrong and how you feel about it." Her service is called Apology. "Hmmm," I say. "Maybe this is going to be a movie about guilt and easy, anonymous absolution. How interesting." Warren plans to play the tapes to art lovers as they walk through a giant and indisputably Freudian tube she's built. "Sounds pretentious to me," says Warren's young daughter, the movie's sole voice of taste and morality. Warren doth protest too much: "It's not a gimmick and it's not pretentious!" Anyway, a man confessing to the gay murders calls the answering machine and leaves his name. Warren decides not to give the name to the police, but before she has to grapple with that elementary ethical debate, the cops catch their man. Meanwhile, she falls into bed with a cop—Peter (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai) Weller—who thinks she's scum for not handing over the called-in confession. Then a sickie named Claude calls Warren's answering machine. Claude defends Warren's honor by killing a reporter who criticized her in print. Then Claude turns against Warren and threatens her, and she's stupid enough to be chased by him. There's much more, including a bad guy trapped in Warren's movable art tube as it burns and churns. So, I wonder at the end, what was this all about? The power of art? Strange sex in New York? "No," I tell myself, "it's obviously about the evil of answering machines."

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