Picks and Pans Review: Sleeping with the Enemy

updated 02/18/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/18/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Julia Roberts, Patrick Bergin, Kevin Anderson

Nancy Price's novel about a brutally abused Cape Cod wife who feigns her own death to escape her husband had possibilities. And, as the wife, Roberts convincingly makes the transition from terrified victim to tentatively independent, assertive woman.

But the film never becomes the suspense classic it might have been because Ronald (Rain Man) Bass's lame adaptation of Price's story and Joseph (Dreamscape) Ruben's clunky direction serve to accentuate, not camouflage, the plot's implausibilities.

For one thing, Roberts is supposed to have been married to the psychotically violent Bergin (Mountains of the Moon) for about four years, even though they have no children and her only excuse for not relying on a lawyer or the police is that she doesn't think they would do anything. For another, her ludicrous fake-death scheme is dependent on a coincidental typhoon-level storm arriving unexpectedly while she and Bergin are out sailing. Then there's the men's clothing and mustache she wears at one point—a disguise reminiscent of I Love Lucy.

Equally deflating is the casting of Anderson (Miles from Home)—who looks like a 13-year-old in a phony beard—as the man Roberts falls for when she moves to Iowa to start a new life. He is such an inconsequential presence that choosing him makes Roberts seem less in control than she did before.

It won't surprise anyone that Bergin catches on to his wife's plot. When he finally tracks her down, it's not to discuss who should get the dust-vac and Ronettes records either. But Ruben sets up more phony frights than there are in a bottom-of-the-gutbucket slasher film, so when the confrontation does come, it seems perfunctory. When you should be sitting on the edge of your seat, you're pondering an early departure to beat the lines in the rest room. (R)

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