Picks and Pans Review: Boxing Helena

updated 09/20/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/20/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Sherilyn Fenn, Julian Sands, Bill Paxton

Kim Basinger has made mistakes in her life, but transporting herself out of the cast of this tedious, perverse movie wasn't one of them. Its title sounds like the story of a prizefighting cosmetician. No such luck. The director, Jennifer Lynch, shares the distaste her father, David, has for straightforward storytelling in projects like Twin Peaks (though she lacks his sense of humor and amusing detail). So this story of a surgeon obsessed with a slutty young woman is told in a dizzying mélange of flashbacks, dream sequences, fantasies, flapdoodles and total wig-outs.

Fenn, Peaks' femme énigmatique, plays the title heroine, a role that was at various times reported to be destined for Basinger, Madonna and almost every other female this side of Hillary Clinton. A kind of genteel bar girl, Fenn has caught the attention of Sands—chief surgeon at a hospital in some unspecified city—in one of the few events not flashed back to at some point in this movie. They have apparently had one date, enough for Fenn to realize Sands is a total wuss. She keeps brushing him off, while he pursues her with insane devotion, enriching a local florist and even hosting a party for her at his estate.

Finally he resorts to capriciously amputating her arms and legs so she'll be dependent on him. (At this point, one wonders what kind of medical insurance Fenn has—and whether Sands' malpractice policy is up to date.) To suggest that this is all somehow metaphorical—about, say, men's possessive attitude toward women—is spurious, tantamount to saying that a baby who splatters a spoonful of oatmeal on the wall is making a philosophical statement.

Nor is the film serious enough to seem misogynist, even though Lynch wrote the story from an idea by male producer Philippe Caland. if there is any sexism involved, it is man bashing. The surgeon is a whiney, monumentally dense buffoon; when he joins his best friend, another doctor (Art Garfunkel), it looks like a simp convention. Paxton, as Fenn's thuggish boyfriend, seems relatively sympathetic.

The chunky Fenn never seems rapturously gorgeous enough to inspire Sands' passion, and the only acting required of her is to look constantly stricken. And the notorious sex scenes, which reportedly had threatened to draw an NC-17 rating, are chaste and implicit by modern standards, though tiresomely frequent. While much is made of Sands' suffering from premature ejaculation, that is in fact the movie's problem: Once it has displayed the amputations, Boxing collapses in an impotent lump. (R)

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