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‘Reckless’ (PG-13)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 17, 1995

At the beginning of "Reckless," Norman Rene's skillful adaptation of a play by Craig Lucas, it's Christmas Eve, and Rachel (Mia Farrow) is so euphorically happy she might actually believe Santa is about to come sliding down the chimney. With the snow piling up outside her picturesque Connecticut home and her two boys tucked snug in their beds, Rachel can't imagine a more perfect life. And sure enough, within minutes, she and her husband, Tom (Tony Goldwyn), hear someone moving around downstairs.

Unfortunately, the clumsy intruder isn't Santa Claus; he's a hit man breaking into the house to fulfill the contract that Tom has taken out on Rachel's life. Wracked with guilt, Tom hustles his wife out the window. Wandering alone in the snow, Rachel meets Lloyd (Scott Glenn), a friendly stranger who ends up taking her to his home in nearby Springfield to spend Christmas with him and his wife, Pooty (Mary-Louise Parker).

Lucas's stylized black comedy deals with an ambitious slate of issues and themes, not the least of which is the impact of the past—particularly past traumas—on the present. In his previous work—including "Prelude to a Kiss" and "Longtime Companion"—Lucas addressed the middle-class fear that its sense of domestic security hangs by the slenderest of threads. This time, Lucas's characters are all survivors of disastrous meltdowns. As we later learn, Lloyd is a recovering alcoholic who abandoned his ailing wife and children. After changing his name and moving to another city, Lloyd dedicated his life to helping people with disabilities and went to work for a rehabilitation center where he met Pooty, a deaf paraplegic.

Rachel is running, too, but not just from her husband. When she was 6, her mother was run over by a school bus. As a result, she remains a sort of perpetual child, poetically disassociated from the unpleasant facts of her life. And in Pooty and Lloyd she has found her soul mates. Soon, the couple invite her to move in with them permanently, and when she does, the three of them are like kids playing house.

For Lucas, this state of vulnerable innocence is more than simple immaturity; it is a metaphor for the human condition. Abandonment is something the playwright knows firsthand, having been left in the back seat of a car as an infant by his mother. In "Reckless," Lucas suggests that a failure to confront the past and heal its wounds can only lead to misery. Rachel believes that the past is "a nightmare that you wake up from"; Lloyd, on the other hand, sees it as "a nightmare you wake up to." Every day, he does penance for past sins by indulging his precious new wife; the couple's silent flirtations are lovely and affecting.

At the same time, they're deeply twisted and creepy. Supposedly, Pooty and Lloyd's relationship is based on total honesty, but Pooty is keeping one crucial secret to herself (I'm invoking the "Crying Game" rule here). For the remainder of the picture, cataclysm follows catastrophe until Lloyd and Rachel find themselves on the road alone, driving from one Springfield to another. Every state has one.

Along the way, Lucas articulates his themes with artful lucidity, but the movie is so literate, so written, that its emotional impact seems almost incidental to its design and the elegant play of its symmetries. In the end, the story unfolds, not for any strong dramatic motive, but to maintain the playwright's carefully created sense of balance and proportion. Though Lucas deals with heavyweight issues, his cool, studied approach somehow diminishes them.

The actors, too, appear cramped inside the play's rigorous design. As Rachel, Farrow has some priceless moments, but this sort of child-woman is hardly a stretch for her, and you feel as if you've seen the performance before. As Lloyd, Glenn uses his weathered features to convey a feeling of worldly experience, but the script doesn't give him—or Parker—much to work with.

At times, the movie is preposterously, darkly funny, but instead of building momentum as it goes along, it dribbles away. Despite the author's obvious talents and expert craftsmanship, "Reckless" disintegrates into trivia.

Reckless is rated PG-13.

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