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‘Knight Moves’ (R)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 22, 1993

Call it hard-snore pawnography: Set in the international chess world, "Knight Moves" is a poor man's "Silence of the Lambs," a wannabe thriller about a serial killer that's as oafish and obvious as "Silence" was artful and intriguing.

"Knight Moves" opens with a black-and-white prologue, observing two adolescents at the chessboard in a 1972 regional tournament. After checkmate, the pudgy loser stabs the other boy in the hand, and is dragged off and forbidden to play chess -- as the opening credits end, this bad loser literally walks over his mother's dead body to play chess again. The vertiginous black-and-white overhead shots and shrieking, thumping score suggest we're in for some camp horror, a la "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

No such luck. Flash-forward to a high-tech world-class tournament where arrogant grandmaster Peter Sanderson (charisma-free Christopher Lambert) is a favorite. After a tense game, Lambert indulges in a quickie with a tournament hanger-on. The next morning his date turns up dead, garishly made up, drained as dry as one of Dracula's dates, with the word "Remember" written in blood on the wall above her head. The sneaky-looking Lambert lies to the police at first, but it's plain as day he is being framed by a murderous game player using a string of young women as his pawns.

It's all too clear from the start why this insult to the memory of Hannibal Lechter is after Lambert -- it's just a matter of killing time till we figure out which one of the fringe characters is the grown-up spoilsport from the prologue. The cops -- one standard hard-boiled (Tom Skerritt) and one offensively blunt (Andrew Baldwin) -- bring a lovely young prop psychologist (Diane Lane) in to consult on the case. Three guesses who's next.

"Knight Moves" is gratuitous in all senses of the word, and the victims, whom we're never introduced to or come to care for, are usually offed soon after they reveal their Victoria's Secrets.

Director Carl Schenkel skipped "suspense" in film school, and routinely relies on the cheesy gambit of displaying the scantily clad corpses (or snapshots of the victims, a la "Silence") in an attempt to shock.

"To prepare for his role as Peter Sanderson," reads the "Knight Moves" press kit, "Lambert spent several hours watching taped chess tournaments." Somewhere, Robert De Niro is shaking. Let's hope that Daniel Baldwin is the last acting brother in the Baldwin family closet -- the coarsest and beefiest Baldwin, he'd be an ideal Joey Buttafuoco in the inevitable big-screen treatment of the Amy Fisher story. It's a real pleasure to see Lane back on the screen (she's also in "My New Gun"), but after sleepwalking through this bad "Knight," perhaps she'll be more discerning next time.

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