Picks and Pans Review: D.o.a.

UPDATED 04/04/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/04/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

Take away the silliness and most of the killings, and this would be a snappy, absorbing suspense film. Of course, it would also be about a three-minute suspense film, since silliness and killing is practically all that goes on. For instance: Dennis Quaid, as an English professor at a Texas college, has been poisoned, there is no antidote, and he has only a few hours to live. He has witnessed four deaths and is on the run from the police. They have not thought to look for him in his office, where he is hiding with Meg (Top Gun) Ryan, the coed whose wrist he glued to his own so she couldn't turn him in. That was before the crazed killer with the nail-shooting gun came after them, needless to say. So here they are, sweaty, exhausted, bloody, dirty, terrified, confused, and what does Quaid say to Ryan? "So where's home?" Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, who were the creators of Max Headroom, co-directed in a style that would hardly seem to justify their reputation for innovation. The film begins and ends with black-and-white footage, but in between there's nothing to write term papers about. Charles Edward (The Fly) Pogue wrote the largely lame script, a reworking of the far superior 1949 D.O.A. that starred Edmond O'Brien. While nobody has ever done overwrought better than the brow-furrowing O'Brien, Quaid manages to maintain more tension than the dialogue deserves. Ryan, Quaid's real-life companion, is fresh-faced and appealing, and Jane (The Heavenly Kid) Kaczmarek, as the wife who wants to divorce Quaid, extracts feeling from a part that constantly requires her to look stricken. Charlotte Rampling, who probably hasn't smiled onscreen since 1973, doesn't seem to know how to act—but then who would?—as a rich widow whose ward is the son of the man who murdered her husband. (Her daughter hates her and loves the ward, and her chauffeur happens to be a neo-Nazi brute too.) The ending is easy to predict. For one thing, just about every major character but the murderer and Quaid have been killed off. The motive offered for all the bloodshed is also foolish in the extreme. By the way, the 1949 version is available on tape. Popcorn is about $8,000 a pound cheaper in your kitchen than at a theater. That old sofa is looking pretty comfortable, isn't it? Nothing more need be said. (R)

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