Picks and Pans Review: The Morning After

updated 01/05/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/05/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

When you first see Jane Fonda as a bleached blonde in this brittle murder mystery, you want to shout hallelujah. If there's any star in need of new packaging, it's Fonda, and she has indeed pushed herself all the way off the pedestal. The result is her most compelling and corrosive performance since Coming Home. When Fonda plays a wanton woman these days, it's a novelty act, and she could coast on that surprise in this film, where she plays an alcoholic movie actress who wakes up in bed with a dead man. Fonda, however, goes further, mining the brazenness and bitterness in this misfit. For a change, she seems to inhabit a heroine instead of assessing her. As etched by Fonda, this character is the de facto granddaughter of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard—a loser who won't admit she's lost. 'They were grooming me to be the next Vera Miles," brays Fonda at her unlikely lover, a down-and-out California cop whom Jeff Bridges comfortably portrays. His racial slurs are emasculated by Fonda's clever comebacks in James Hicks's street-smart script. It's all capably directed by Sidney Lumet, who usually works the avenues of New York City instead of the alleyways of Los Angeles. The Morning After is distressingly full of the convenient coincidences that torpedo too many mysteries. Then too, once this has-been dyes her hair back to its natural shade, the movie suddenly seems to adopt the Vidal Sassoon theory of salvation: With your real hair color, you'll become the real you. In a gratuitous coda, Fonda climbs back up into the pulpit to deliver a sermonette about alcoholism. It mars the film, but not her performance. Slight as it is, The Morning After does practice what it preaches. This is a drama about redemption in which one of our best actresses at long last redeems herself. (R)

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