Picks and Pans Review: Exposure

updated 12/09/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/09/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Peter Coyote, Amanda Pays

Sadists will love this film. It opens with a close-up of a knife slicing through a woman's cheek, features several bloody stabbings (one with garden shears), a rape, an eye-gouging and—extra points for whoever thought up this one—a man being forced to eat cockroaches. All in the name of art, of course, for this is a thriller with intellectual pretensions.

Exposure is about an American photographer (Coyote) working in Rio de Janeiro, who decides after thugs stab him and brutalize his girlfriend (lovely Pays, who deserves better roles) that he can no longer hide behind his camera lens. "To observe wasn't enough anymore," he says.

Does this sound familiar? It should. First-time feature-film director Walter Salles Jr.'s murky new movie is pretty much an updated, vest-pocket version of Straw Dogs, Sam Peckinpah's gruesome 1971 revenge drama about a meek mathematician (Dustin Hoffman) who turns bloodthirsty after his wife is raped. With a nod to Death Wish, Exposure piles up as many corpses as Dogs, but it lacks the latter's brutal verve.

In fact, Exposure turns stupendously silly when Coyote, a gangly, laid-back actor who can be sexy in a brainy, associate-professor kind of way, turns into Action Man. Electing to seek his revenge via the blade, he signs up for knife-fighting lessons with the mono-named Hermes (Turkish-born actor Tcheky Karyo), described as a "master per-sev," short for perforate and sever. Solemnly ritualistic, the how-to-stab-correctly scenes, which seem to take up nearly a third of the movie, feel like recycled Kung Fu episodes—except, fortunately, Coyote's instructor isn't blind. (R)

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