Picks and Pans Review: Monster

updated 01/19/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/19/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

DRAMA

Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci

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Theron, blessed with the glowing, pert face of a '30s starlet, physically reinvents herself to play notorious serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute executed in 2002 for killing six men who'd picked her up along a Florida highway. (She claimed she committed most of the murders to keep her girlfriend in steady cash.) Theron, miles away from The Italian Job, looks as if she has been slathered in mud, baked under desert sun, then dumped in a coal cellar. Her hair is filthy, her teeth are ruined, and a lack of eyebrows gives her an unnerving stare. Theron dives into the emotional muck too. She swears, screams, weeps, shoots, drinks. Finally, betrayed to the police by her lover (Ricci, sulking like a third-wheel friend on Rich Girls), she shows us a broken heart. Theron makes Wuornos human.

Which is a mistake. Something awful inside Wuornos left her outside the scope of normal life, and Theron (or writer-director Patty Jenkins) doesn't dramatize whatever enigmatic factor made Aileen fundamentally alien. In Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, a new documentary that includes death-row interviews with a clearly demented Wuornos, director Nick Broomfield asks her if she can possibly explain her killings. Unwilling to touch the question, she screams at him, "You are lost, Nick!" So, in a sense, is Monster. (R)

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