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‘Pacific Heights’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 28, 1990

"Pacific Heights" is "Fatal Attraction" with mortgage payments, a young, upwardly mobile thriller about home renovation, smart investments and rent control -- as in, landlords don't have any. Featuring Michael Keaton as a roach-breeding tenant who will neither pay his rent nor go away, it has a scary premise, but not nearly as scary as today's real estate market.

Like the Alien, Keaton thrusts himself into the lives of a couple of financially pressed homeowners played by Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine. A San Francisco yuppie Gothic, this is a well-acted, if thinly motivated, cautionary tale complete with advice from Mr. and Ms. Fix-It. Griffith, as an equestrian with a bum knee, and Modine, as a flighty kite store owner, are living out their dream -- if plaster dust be the stuff dreams are made of -- when along comes this tenant from "Nightmare on Elm Street."

Carter Hayes (Keaton) doesn't have razor claws like Freddy Krueger, but he does fiddle with razor blades the way other folks worry beads. Is he going to kill the fluffy kitty, slash Patty's (Griffith) pert face or just ruin the walls she and Drake (Modine) have so carefully restored? The score moans like a ghost with a megaphone to build suspense. And director John Schlesinger bolsters the rickety script with cameras that spin like Linda Blair's head. If you don't get spooked, you'll at least get dizzy.

Carter, a scheming sociopath, pretends to be the perfect tenant till he moves in, dodges the couple's efforts to collect rent and starts hammering at all hours. Oh, the horror! When they try to evict him, he wages an escalating psychological war against the defenseless pair, who stand to lose not only their relationship but their investment. When they seek justice, they are shocked to find that the law is on the side of the tenant from Dante's Inferno.

A real estate scam artist and all-around mean guy, Carter apparently does this sort of thing for both fun and profit -- or because he is just a psycho. An upscale grifter, he ferrets out overextended schnooks and then manipulates the local statutes to wind up owning their property. (Think of this as the last '80s movie.)

Patty and Drake are perfect house-poor pigeons who can afford the mortgage payment only if they collect the rent from their two apartments. Patty, the savvier of the pair, is instinctively suspicious of Carter, but Drake, a sensitive bonehead, rents to him anyway in an attempt to prove he can take charge. Unfortunately, he finds out he is about as capable as Camille's lung specialist. "What was I trying to prove?" the now-wounded Drake demands of Patty, who finally takes matters into her own sweet hands.

Screenwriter Daniel Pyne bases his story on his own frustrating encounter with a deadbeat who dragged him and his wife through a costly eviction process. And he manages to provide a frustrating experience, if that is your idea of movie enjoyment. The message seems to be, don't take a chance with your credit rating. But "Pacific Heights" isn't quite a myth for our time because, well, Patty and Drake still make a profit on their investment.

"Pacific Heights" is rated R for nudity, profanity and violence.

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