Thursday, June 23, 2011

A film with better performances than it deserved

Double Exposure (1983)
Starring: Michael Callan, James Stacy, Joanna Pettet, and Seymour Cassel
Director: William Byron Hillman
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A photographer (Callan) on the verge of a mental breakdown starts having vivid nightmares in which he murders his beautiful models. When a mysterious serial killer starts making his dreams reality--by murdering his models in exactly the manner he dreamed--both he and the police become convinced that he is the killer.

"Double Exposure" is a fairly run-of-the-mill low-budget murder mystery/sexual thriller that features substandard dialogue but better-than-expected acting from the cast members. Time and again, Callan, Stacy, Pettet, Cassel, and the extensive supporting cast of suspects and victims prove the truism that a good actor can make even the worse lines sing.

Callan in particular is good. He presents a believable performance as a man who is coming apart at the seams, and manages to make a character who might come across as slimy likable--given that he's a guy in his forties rutting with women half his age--which makes the maybe-dream-sequences all the more effective and shocking when he turns from nice guy to killer. The violence during the kill sequences is also startling because it mostly comes with very little build-up.

There are two major flaws with this film that the actors can't overcome, however.

The first are the painfully boring stretches of padding, with the worst of these being a pointless sequence of the characters dancing the night away at a disco. If not for the shuttle feature on my DVD player, I may have given up on this movie at that point. Yes, there was a tiny bit of plot that unfolded during the long--oh so long!--disco scene, and it helped set up the twist ending a little, but it was nowhere near enough to justify the torture of sitting through that scene. Even with liberal application of the shuttle feature, it was too long.

The second is the way the story is executed. As mentioned above, the film has a twist ending in-so-far-as who the real murderer is. However, the lines between the main character's reality and dreams become so blurred that even the viewer can't keep track of what's what. At roughly the halfway point of the film, I decided that I was watching a really bad attempt at making a film like "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" where the hook of the story isn't who-dunnit but rather how the psycho killer will ultimately meet his end. The level of padding, though, was so severe that I almost didn't stick with the film to the end. The only thing that kept me watching was several inconsistencies in the timeline of the killings versus where the photographer seemed to be at the time... they seemed a little too deliberate to just be sloppy writing, so stuck with the film to see if I had been right in my assumption.

It turns out that I was not, but that this film follows the more standard path of having one of the characters framing/exploiting the main character's unstable mental state for his own twisted purposes, in addition to serial killing that is. While there are clues to whom the actual killer is sprinkled throughout the movie, the revelation of the identity, the how, and the why really don't make a whole lot of sense, nor do they seem terribly plausible if one applies a little bit of thought.

Then again, this movie really isn't worth your brain-power, and watching it may just make you feel sad for the actors who are giving this poorly conceived crap their best efforts.