Picks and Pans Review: The House on Carroll Street

updated 03/14/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/14/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Let's file under Bull any favorable comparisons you may hear elsewhere between the work of Alfred Hitchcock and this dud of a thriller. Hitchcock used terror to catch the conscience of an audience. His best films (Vertigo, Notorious, Strangers on a Train) had a moral resonance you couldn't shake. This movie merely gets the surface right, missing the art—and heart—of classic Hitchcock. Director Peter (Suspect) Yates slavishly follows the master's blueprint. Set the scene: New York circa 1951 at the height of the McCarthy witch-hunts. Pick an attractive star—here, Kelly McGillis, America's Top Gun sweetheart. Put the star in a tight situation—she loses her job at LIFE because of her alleged left-wing politics, and uncovers a plot to smuggle Nazis into America. Add a villain, a congressional anti-Commie counsel acted to the hilt and beyond by Mandy (The Princess Bride) Patinkin. Toss in a love interest, an FBI agent played by Jeff (The Purple Rose of Cairo) Daniels. Simple recipe—so why is the dish so unpalatable? It's no help that the script by Walter (The Front) Bernstein is low on originality, inspiration, wit and logic—all the good stuff that makes you care. It's no asset that Yates resorts to squeaking doors, footsteps on the stairs, even a glove on the banister for goose bumps. It's no thrill to watch McGillis and Daniels, good actors on other occasions, utter the dippiest romantic dialogue since Love Story. "I hated New York till I met you," says he. Answers she, when asked what it was that attracted her to him: "You're tender, that's what did it." It's no surprise that the climactic chase on the glass rooftops of Grand Central Station generates zip suspense. By now it's no cheat to give away the ending: The audience takes the fall. (PG)

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