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‘Boxing Helena’ (R)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 03, 1993

Confidential to Kim Basinger: That $8.5 million you paid to get out of "Boxing Helena" was worth every penny. A two-hour stink bomb, "Boxing Helena" is a pitifully pervy piece of work that would have marred even your less-than-brilliant career.

Grossly overhyped for who wasn't starring in it (Madonna, Basinger), "Helena" wore out its welcome in the gossip columns earlier this summer. So everyone knows by now that it's about a rich young doctor (Julian Sands, having a bad acting day) so obsessed with a beautiful, unattainable woman that he cuts off her arms and legs and literally puts her on a pedestal.

A sick-puppy stalker, Dr. Nick Cavanaugh climbs a tree outside Helena's bedroom and spies on her engaged in the first of several slo-mo, soft-core sex scenes -- writer-director Jennifer Chambers Lynch could always get a job making those witless Playboy home videos they're forever hawking on cable.

As petulantly played by Sherilyn Fenn, Helena is such a malignant shrew that audience members were urging the disarming doctor to leave the limbs and cut off her head.

Nick lures the hateful Helena to his palatial house, and when she tries to leave, she's hit by a car. Throwing ethics to the wind, he removes her legs in an at-home surgery, and quits his job to tend to and adore his secret captive. Helena tries to get away, of course -- at this point, someone sitting behind me said, "Ooops -- there go her arms!"

And so limbless Helena ends up in her box, more like a squatty throne on Nick's dining room table, where she's plopped as sort of a gutter-mouthed centerpiece. Its nasty novelty gone, the rest of "Helena" drags on like an eternal "Misery," with a good hour left to go. The audience let out a communal groan of disgust when it all turned out to be Only a Dream.

Lynch, who hired "Twin Peaks" cinematographer Frank Byers, nipped more than a bit of her sicker shtick from daddy David Lynch, the king of pretentious cult films, including the loony Oedipal-explanatory flashbacks about neglected little boy Nick and his drawn-by-Vargas nympho mom, and the flame-out fadeouts during peaks of passion.

All that adolescent anti-erotic sex stuff aside, Lynch does exhibit some stylistic flair. The film is art-directed like Architectural Digest (or a Victoria's Secret catalogue) come to life, and there's real farcical energy in the scene in which wheelchair-bound Helena tries to escape, whizzing back and forth while Nick's clueless girlfriend is at the door. With a few more scenes like this, "Helena" might have been salvageable as a so-bad-it's-good camp goof -- if only it weren't so boring.

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