Picks and Pans Review: Black Widow

updated 03/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Debra Winger and Theresa Russell are two terrific, sexy actresses. So much for the two good things to be said about this inexplicably well-received suspense film. Gushed one critic: "Easily the best thriller since The Jagged Edge" That's quite a doozy, since Edge was a crudely plotted bit of celluloid rubbish. Another reviewer said the film measured up to Hitchcock. Them's fighting words. Even at his nadir (1966's Tom Curtain), Hitch never spawned anything as mentally and morally bankrupt as this pretentious thumb-sucker. Winger plays a federal investigator, leched after by most of her male office colleagues, but interested only in her work. She's tracking the mysterious deaths of two rich businessmen who had young wives. Seizing the notion that both widows may just be the same murderous woman (Russell), Winger takes off in what the old-fashioned melodramas used to refer to as hot pursuit. Director Bob Rafelson, who did such vivid work on Five Easy Pieces, this time chooses the cool, juiceless approach he brought to the flops The King of Marvin Gardens and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Whatever small vestiges of energy the film generates in having the two women develop a mutual and perhaps lesbian attraction dissipates as Harold (War-Games) Schneider's script concentrates on setting up Russell's next victim, billionaire Sami (The Little Drummer Girl) Frey. Both Winger and Russell fall prey to his smarmy lounge lizard posturing, which is almost as hard to buy as the trite, is-that-all-there-is TV-movie ending. The best way to survive this claptrap is to forget the plot and concentrate on those hot exchanges between Winger and Russell. They look spectacular and give the impression they're involved in something profound instead of the film equivalent of hair spray. Yet their laboring to animate a stillborn script avails little. No matter how admirable their effort, you're stuck for two hours with a corpse. (R)

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