Picks and Pans Review: White of the Eye

updated 05/02/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/02/1988 01:00AM

"I've got a marital problem," says Cathy Moriarty on the phone to a woman chum. Now there's the understatement of the movie year. In the storage compartment behind the bathroom tub she's just found a severed hand, a heart and several other human organs neatly wrapped in plastic bags. The discovery has led Moriarty, a Tucson housewife and mother, to suspect that her husband, played by David (Firestarter) Keith, is the serial murderer currently savaging the neighborhood. So she talks about it with hubby over pizza. Despite the macabre humor, director and co-writer Donald (Performance) Cammell is not out to spare us the gory details. This is a rock-'em, shock-'em thriller. But Cammell goes beyond the call of horror-movie duty by raising some disturbing questions: Do we really know the people we love? Do we understand their motives? To the film's credit, Moriarty doesn't react to the grisly incriminating evidence like a shrieking movie heroine. Instead she behaves like a wife of 10 years. She has dealt with this man's philandering; he still makes her laugh and feel sexy, and he's made things comfortable for her and their daughter (Danielle Smith) with the money he makes installing expensive audio equipment. In flashbacks we see how they met. Moriarty, a tough Bronx cookie, was on her way to Malibu with a boyfriend (Alan Rosenberg) when they stopped in Tucson to get their car stereo fixed. Keith did the job; he also took the city boy hunting and Moriarty to bed. Rosenberg is stuck in Tucson, fixing cars and selling peanut butter on the side. "I sure do pick 'em," says Moriarty of the men in her life. No fair revealing more. But if violence doesn't repel you, you're in for something hellishly hypnotic. Keith is a double dose of charm and danger. But it's Moriarty's show. An Oscar nominee in her 1980 debut as Robert De Niro's bombshell wife in Raging Bull, she did little afterward. Her return is worth heralding. In a juicy role, expertly squeezed, she is raw, powerful and moving. Even in this nerve-frying movie, she makes you care. (R)

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