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‘Jennifer Eight’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 06, 1992

An obsessed cop protects a vulnerable beauty from a serial killer: The concept behind the thriller "Jennifer Eight" is hardly original, but it becomes even hoarier if we think of him as a blue knight, her as a fair damsel and the killer as a monstrous lair-dweller. The twist is that the damsel's blind, and the heroic quest has to do with the unholy use of Braille.

An exercise in mythic recycling, this uneven drama concerns a burned-out big city cop's search for spiritual rejuvenation in rainy, redwood-forested Eureka, Calif. Alas, Sgt. John Berlin (Andy Garcia) finds not peace of mind but a new outlet for his compulsion to solve murder mysteries before he's even officially begun the job. Eager to get started, he catches up with his new partner (Lance Henriksen) at the town dump, where an investigation turns up a severed hand among the garbage bags. Inevitably Berlin's obsession with the gruesome artifact leads him to the trail of a maniac with no fondness for blind blondes.

Though none of his new peers will believe him, Berlin becomes increasingly certain that an unsolved homicide, code name Jennifer One, was only the first of the killer's victims. A student missing from a nearby college, he insists, is the madman's eighth victim. And he's got the hand to prove it. The chief forbids him to pursue the case, yet Berlin persists in his investigation, which leads him to frail, vulnerable Helena (Uma Thurman), his only witness and doubtless the killer's next victim. What's a cop to do but fall in love?

Garcia, beard stubble pulsing, black eyes boring bullet holes, brings a swaggering fanaticism to his role, and Thurman is an exquisitely pathetic bit of dragon bait. But where, oh where is the skulking, hand-hacking nut case? Perhaps he was lost in the bad weather that apparently prevailed throughout filming. Even when he does manage to find the set, he isn't especially menacing. British writer-director Bruce Robinson, who won kudos for his screenplay "The Killing Fields" and his novel adaptation "Withnail & I" doesn't have a clue when it comes to this populist genre. What he has are cliches.

"Jennifer Eigh" is rated R for violence and nudity.

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