Picks and Pans Review: The Vanishing

updated 02/22/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/22/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

Jeff Bridges, Nancy Travis, Kiefer Sutherland, Sandra Bullock

The first half of this insidious mystery is shrewdly paced and grippingly enigmatic. But its conclusion becomes increasingly preposterous, foolish and dense.

The film opens with an engrossing sequence showing Bridges, as an eccentric Seattle-area chemistry teacher, going through what is apparently a rehearsal for an abduction that will involve chloroforming his victim. Director George Sluizer then segues, with no transition, to Sutherland and his girlfriend, Bullock, traveling from Seattle to Mount St. Helens. Bullock wanders off at a gas station and doesn't return, setting Sutherland off on an obsessive search for her that lasts years and winds up making him a minor media celebrity.

The movie's two halves converge predictably, even though Bullock's disappearance is never really explained. Bridges seems so congenial throughout that he has a hard time playing creepy. His best scenes are warm fuzzies with his precocious teenage daughter, Maggie Linderman. Sutherland, meanwhile, is such a bland, dispassionate actor that he hardly seems capable of the obsession this story revolves around.

The too-seldom-seen Travis supplies the film's most passionate, convincing moments as a waitress who falls in love with Sutherland while he is still searching for Bullock.

Sluizer, who directed the same story in the Netherlands—as Spoorloos—in 1988, gets little help from writer Todd Graff, whose script is awash in the evil of banality. (R)

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