Picks and Pans Review: Misery

updated 12/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

James Caan, Kathy Bates

Stretched as it is over 105 minutes, the plot of this movie wears thinner and thinner until holes start popping out all over.

Directed by Rob {When Harry Met Sally...) Reiner and adapted by William (The Princess Bride) Goldman from Stephen King's novel, the film is a mix of The Collector, Tattoo and The Fan, with a gender reversal. Caan, as an author of best-selling romance novels about a character named Misery Chastain, has a car accident on a deserted road during a snowstorm in Colorado. His legs are broken, but he is rescued by Bates, who in addition to being Misery's biggest fan is a card-carrying psychopath. She drags Caan back to her house, drugs him up and proceeds to hold him captive.

This all would have been perfect for a half-hour TV show or one of those horror anthology films. As it is, even the resourceful Reiner and Goldman are hard put to keep things going until the inevitable final clash. For better or worse, they don't explore the most obvious subtext: the notion that Caan's best way to escape would be to seduce Bates, who is bonkers about him. That her character is not only a psychopath but a homely psychopath might have made for an interesting digression or two, but then sex scenes are never King's strong suit.

As it is, the acerbic byplay between Richard Farnsworth, the folksy local sheriff who ends up investigating Caan's disappearance, and Frances Sternhagen, as his wife, provide most of the enjoyable distractions.

Caan, looking convincingly battered, is effective at seeming in pain, which he is most of the time. And Bates (Men Don't Leave), an accomplished character actor, vacillates nicely between sycophant and maniac. She doesn't bring a lot of personality to the part, though. Seeing a bigger name turn into such a fiend might have added another element (the part would seem tailor-made for Roseanne Barr, but someone totally incongruous—Candice Bergen, say—might have been fun too).

Most distracting, though, are the flimsy plot contrivances. When faced with a mysterious disappearance in Bates's area, for instance, Farnsworth doesn't immediately check her out, though in the past she has been convicted of some crime involving the deaths of babies in a hospital.

Things deteriorate rapidly. The graphically violent final fight is clumsily staged, and there's a silly epilogue that recalls the laziest cheapo chillers.

Lauren Bacall has a couple of scenes as Caan's agent, but this, one assumes, won't be part of her career highlight film. (R)

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