Recently Rated Movies #55: Definitely in the Eye of the Beholder...

Eye of the Beholder
Director: Stephan Elliott // 1999 [DVD]

Cinema 4 Rating: 6

This movie, most likely? Merely another example of the now-standard studio reflex to rewrite and/or remake everything (both, in this case), whether it is needed or not, and muck it up to an insane level in the process. Ewan McGregor's secret agent (code-named Eye, which helps towards explaining the title, which is more than most movies do; you don't see Alex Trebek making a cameo in Double Jeopardy) spies on a femme fatale/serial killer played in a variety of wigs by a most bewitching Ashley Judd, for once doing the slicing instead of the co-investigating (even if the cover looks like another one of her James Peterson-style cookie cutter flicks). McGregor, who premiered as Obi-Wan Kenobi this same year, has lost his wife and daughter in a divorce, becomes entranced by Judd to the point where he begins to protect her as he follows her devilish exploits through a variety of cities, collecting souvenir snowglobes of each stop along the way. To make things worse for the addled agent, his daughter's memory haunts him to the point where he holds entire conversations with him and interjects herself into his investigation, even though he is only somewhat certain that the mental image he has gotten of her from a school photograph is actually the right girl. Then, both Judd and McGregor refer to Judd's character as a "lost little girl", and if you think that isn't creepy when coupled with McGregor's obsession and voyeurism, then let me introduce you to Chris Hansen...

Ridiculous, shallow, empty... McGregor's agent (I mean, his character, though maybe his real-life agent applies here as well) and his methods make no sense in the real world; Judd, for supposedly being such a frightfully deranged killer that investigations are launched over her by multiple agencies, still ends up as a woman in peril who must be rescued; and everything in this movie seems to occur in a world totally shut off from the increasingly outrageous actions of the two or three main characters. It seems that Judd's character would be exceedingly easy to capture and bring to justice, at least as portrayed in this film. Not being a serial killer, I don't know how they perceive the world around them, but it would not be a far-reaching conclusion to think that they would have a little more prescience regarding the world around them when they go out -- Judd's Joanna seems to have more than a small amount of perception regarding the men upon whom she preys -- so why does she never take a look around when she goes out, and see (more than the one time she does) this often klutzy and not particularly well-obscured agent who chases her about for several years?

So, why is
Eye of the Beholder so goddamned compelling? Why do I give it a break, when logic would seem to preclude the fact I would like this movie? Easy -- despite its cavalcade of ceaselessly faults, Beholder is immensely watchable. Part of this might be better acting than the film deserves, even if McGregor himself seems to sleepwalk through much of the movie. (Patrick Bergin and Geneviève Bujold do fine small turns here; k.d. lang, however, does not. Love the vocalist, hate the actress.) Judd's habit of flouncing about in her various residences in either lingerie or absolutely nothing doesn't hurt either, and certainly helps the film direct our own voyeurism as a parallel towards that of the nosy McGregor, who constantly sets up cameras and voice sensors everywhere he goes, collecting endless data on his subject. And director Elliott, who also made the outright enjoyable The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert a number of years ago, goes crazy with the artiness, making this film look and feel far more than the sum of its parts. This would be fine if there were more here -- most of the plotlines end up getting muddled, especially the one involving the "ghost" of his daughter, which makes little sense being included here (in the original book by thriller specialist Marc Behm and the first film by French director Claude Miller, Mortelle Randonnée, the protagonist is much older than the killer, to the point where he believes she may be his missing child). Instead, we get a grand hodgepodge of splashy scene changes and fabulous set design, and we also get an insanely pretentious closing line in place of decent resolution of any sort.

If Elliott weren't also the screenwriter, I would say that he just decided, "The hell with it! If this thing refuses to make any sense as written, then I am really going to burn down the town!" and just ran crazy with it. But, he
did write the screenplay, so clearly he is as completely lost in the story (with its nonsensical changes) as the field agent is within it. And yet, I am still willing to make concessions to plausibility if the movie genuinely entertains me for its entire running time, and I will say that despite everything that was running counter to this possibility occurring, I was unable to stop watching it. Not in the Plan 9 sort of way. That is a fun film by a very bad director who nonetheless instilled it with his own personal passion, and it's gumption shows in every frame, like a beghouled updating of attitude from Babes in Arms. Beholder is simply a bad film perpetrated, for some odd reason, by a director who can be good and from source material which is proven and good itself, and that makes it almost as fascinating.

Perhaps it is like the clichéd trainwreck from which one cannot turn away. Perhaps voyeurism is transmittable, from director to film protagonist to viewer, until all three find themselves trapped via the seducement of guilt-laden mindlessness. Or perhaps more cinematic trainwrecks need Ashley Judd flouncing about in lingerie to make them watchable. Whatever it is, as often as this film pops up late night on Showtime, I'm fairly certain I will become even better acquainted with it over time. And probably to the point where I feel that I can save it. Just like Joanna...


I saw this on video in the states, and then again in a theatre in London, and each time I got the feeling that I was missing something. I felt that there was something being said that I had no ability to decipher(perhaps if I were more interested in astrology some of the symbolism would have made sense). Still, I enjoyed it each time I watched it, right up until the ending.

How is the original movie? The book certainly sounds interesting.

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