Picks and Pans Review: Darkman

updated 09/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand

You know the notion that if you give enough chimps enough typewriters, paper and time, sooner or later one of them will write Hamlet'? Well, this movie seems to be a test of that notion, except here somebody gave director Sam Raimi some film and they stopped him long before he got to Hamlet.

The result is a loud, sadistic, stupidly written, wretchedly acted film. It may be the most boring movie since Raimi's 1983 horror film The Evil Dead, which persuaded some misguided souls to let him do first a sequel and then this relatively costly number.

Its plot, which Raimi collaborated on with four others, is a variation on Phantom of the Opera. Neeson plays a scientist who is about to marry McDormand and perfect his invention of artificial skin when he and his lab are blown into a zillion bits by a leering villain, L.A. Law's Larry Drake, who is so hammy you want to stick a clove in him. Another villain, real-estate mogul Colin Friels, has the acting skills of your average wastebasket.

Even Neeson (The Good Mother) and McDormand (Mississippi Burning), both usually fine actors, are atrocious, though nobody could do much with lines like "There is no cure for grief. But there is something that eases the symptoms. It's called dancing."

The supposedly dead Neeson is soon wreaking predictable havoc on the bad guys who nearly killed him (and turned his face into a mess he covers with his artificial skin). He's aided by amateurish special effects and the fact that his lab equipment is somehow still intact.

The end leaves open the possibility of a sequel, but it hardly seems likely unless Neeson uses some of his mad-scientist smarts to transform himself into something more human. In that case, he could come back as the Middle-Age Mutant Non-Ninja Turkev. (R)

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