Picks and Pans Review: Dead Again

updated 09/02/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/02/1991 01:00AM

Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson

Eerily charming, stylish and full of deftly acted idiosyncratic characters, this is one hard-to-resist romantic thriller.

The British acting couple of Branagh (Henry V) and Thompson (The Tall Guy) each plays two roles. She is a woman found wandering amnesiac in present-day Los Angeles, terrified by nightmares suggesting a famous husband-wife murder of 43 years ago. He is an insouciant private eye who helps Thompson find her identity. Branagh and Thompson also play the couple in flashbacks to the murder.

As the detective, the splendid Branagh does one of those more-American-than-an-American accents Olivier used to do. Thompson projects palpable intelligence and wit. It's easy to imagine both of them becoming huge Hollywood stars after this—may the movie gods have mercy on their souls.

But they're far from the film's only attractions. Secondary characters include Robin Williams as an ex-shrink who's now a grocery store manager, Andy Garcia as a seedy reporter and Hanna Schygulla as a loyal housekeeper.

Remarkable even among this remarkable troupe, though, is Derek (I, Claudius) Jacobi as a fey antique dealer—hypnotist—he makes extra money by asking hypnosis clients if they know of any choice antiques while he has them under. Jacobi, who seems to get Thompson to regress to a past life under hypnosis, never quite steals the film, but he sure borrows it often.

Branagh, who also directed, and screenwriter Scott Frank wind and twist the plot tight as they head to their slickly delivered final confrontation.

They toy with a cynical, one-man's-fatal-attraction-is-another-man's-boiled-rabbit message about relationships. Thompson, as the modem Los Angelena lamenting the '40s couple's fate, says, "They seemed so in love." Branagh replies, "Well, those are the people who usually kill each other."

The movie's reincarnation notions are similarly presented, with enough sincerity to please believers and enough derision to satisfy skeptics. Suffice it to say that anyone who in a previous incarnation—or even this one—loved Laura should love this film. (R)

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