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Picks and Pans Review: Pacific Heights

updated 10/08/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/08/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Michael Keaton, Melanie Griffith, Matthew Modine

Sigh. This film really makes you lament the absence these days of a director like Alfred Hitchcock, who could take widely popular actors, cast them in unlikely roles in a thriller and create an entertaining confection.

This film, directed by John (Marathon Man) Schlesinger, gets as far as the popular actors and unexpected roles. But halfway along, the script by newcomer Daniel Pyne dissolves into a series of laughable developments that aren't twists so much as cramps.

Keaton, in his first post-Batman release, is effectively sinister as a mentally unstable con artist who becomes a tenant in a San Francisco house owned by Griffith and Modine. It's soon clear that he's going to cause his landlords more trouble than just the occasional late rent check; he wants to scam the house away from them, maybe in a liability suit. (His plan is never made clear, and Keaton finally seems to settle for running off with the plumbing fixtures.)

Griffith delivers a calm, self-possessed performance. Modine gets convincingly befuddled by Keaton's malevolence—this is a tenant who plants roaches in the house, makes subtle threats and tricks his landlord into attacking him in public. Tippi Hedren, Griffith's mother, has a small role as another of Keaton's victims, and Beverly D'Angelo is engagingly snarly as Keaton's low-life girlfriend (though she's not in the credits).

There's some nice banter, such as exterminator Tracey Walter telling Griffith she has two choices, kill the roaches or "get a whole bunch of tiny little leashes and pretend they're pets."

As he and Pyne run out of ideas, though, Schlesinger resorts to a silly carousel shot of Griffith and her lawyer, Laurie Metcalf, in a courthouse. It makes you dizzy, but not too dizzy to notice how dumb it is when Keaton passes up a great chance to sue his landlords, and even dumber when Griffith, bent on revenge, chases the psychotenant. By the end, the oh-come-on quotient is mounting fast. (R)

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