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'At First Sight': See and Desist

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 1999

  Movie Critic

At First Sight Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino share a smooch and learn about that vision thing. (MGM)

Irwin Winkler
Val Kilmer;
Mira Sorvino;
Bruce Davison;
Nathan Lane;
Kelly McGillis;
Steven Weber
Running Time:
2 hours, 9 minutes
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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"At First Sight," a facile tale involving both figurative and literal blindness, hardly merits a second glance. It's sheer piffle, a disingenuous romance with Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino that's all sap and no sizzle. And though drawn from the intriguing files of physician Oliver Sacks, the movie manages to be as bland as hospital pudding.

Amy (serviceable Sorvino), a frazzled architect, reluctantly leaves the stink and strife of Gotham behind for a recuperative stay at a remote upstate spa. Tenser than a philandering Republican, Amy makes an appointment with Virgil (touchy-feely Kilmer), the Stevie Wonder of masseurs.

"I can go as deep as you want," offers the blind, blond hunk, whose moan-inducing pummeling reduces Amy to tears. Virgil comforts her with the tenderest of touches and Amy knows that she's found her handyman. Virgil, who is also taken with Amy, describes her buttery skin and cinnamon scent to his Seeing Eye dog. His overprotective older sister (weary Kelly McGillis) is immediately jealous of this coffeecake-like girl and briefly stands in the way of their relationship. Still, the lovers persist.

Love may be blind, but Amy doesn't see it that way. Although she tells her friends that Virgil is the first man who ever really, truly looked at her, she soon talks her beau into having an operation that restores his sight. And suddenly Virgil of the childlike manner and gentle spirit isn't Virgil anymore.

His eyes may be in working order, but the images they transmit make no sense to his brain. He's baffled by shadows, mirrors and glass and he's unable to distinguish the difference between a picture of an apple and the real thing. Facial expressions are incomprehensible, as are concepts like space and dimension.

Virgil, of course, has trouble adjusting to this bright new world. Amy, an ambitious pill, soon decides that this masseur doesn't rub her the right way anymore. They consult a therapist (Nathan Lane), who cracks a couple of jokes in lieu of offering guidance. He and Charles Aaron (Bruce Davison), Virgil's eye specialist, manage to make that bozo of a movie medico Patch Adams look credible.

Aaron not only doesn't anticipate Virgil's adverse reactions to his surgery, he removes Virgil's bandages in a room that is blazing with the lights required by a documentary film crew. This movie's got more quacks than an Audubon Society duck pond.

Aside from some stomach-churning shots of the sight-saving surgery, screenwriter Steve Levitt and producer-turned-director Irwin Winkler focus on sentiment instead of the more compelling medical aspects of Sacks's source material.

The point of this predictable and tiresome exercise goes without saying. But that doesn't stop the filmmakers from putting it into words: "We don't see with our eyes; we live in darkness." Not that they've shed much light on the subject.


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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