Picks and Pans Review: Light Sleeper

updated 09/07/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/07/1992 01:00AM

Willem Dafoe, Dana Delany, Susan Sarandon

Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ, wrote and directed this alienating film about a Manhattan drug-world messenger (Dafoe). Schrader uses mounds of garbage as a visual theme, and his nihilistic world view is hardly conducive to creating interest in what happens to Dafoe, his boss, Sarandon, or Delany, a former girlfriend and fellow junkie who pops back into Dafoe's life.

The acting is erratic. Delany (China Beach) is strikingly ineffective, overstating even such lines as "Uh-huh" and all but shrieking her lines at one point. In a lip-nibbling moment of special angst, Delany even inspires thoughts that she may have been taking evening classes at the Bo Derek Institute of Acting.

Equally unconvincing is Saran don, who as the ruthless leader of the drug ring is plausible only as a flouncy wearer of expensive Armani outfits. Victor Garber, as one of Sarandon's wealthy customers, uses his German accent to sound like a Gestapo officer in a bad World War II movie.

While Dafoe has made a career of looking wasted, and does cynicism better than anyone around, he too is handicapped by his unsympathetic character and Schrader's clumsily unidiomatic script, which has Dafoe using such '60s expressions as "I got bad vibes."

Such suspense as the movie generates has to do with the minimally interesting issue of whether or not Sarandon will finally decide to give up drug pushing and start a cosmetics business.

Schrader does manufacture a violent climax, perhaps to create the illusion that something of consequence has happened. He won't fool anybody who has paid attention. (R)

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