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‘Unlawful Entry’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 26, 1992

I don't know about you, but Ray Liotta can open my mayonnaise jar any time he wants to. Not so the perfect heroine of "Unlawful Entry," a thriller that serves as a how-to guide for women pestered by attractive men who want them. To make a long story short, basically the best thing -- the only thing, really -- is to shoot them.

Okay, so Ray is a little nuts here and he most definitely does wear out his welcome as a cop gone bad for the love of the willowy wife (Madeleine Stowe) of a struggling developer (Kurt Russell). But this hackneyed stalker-rama, which pretends to be a call for gun control, ultimately is little more than an excuse to turn the bad guy into a human colander. The better to strain the moral pasta.

The story opens with an overview of Los Angeles, narrowing on the sprawling home of the lovely Stowe, who is awakened by a bump in the night -- a crack addict in search of the silver. Russell, who has a fax machine but no burglar alarm, goes downstairs armed with a golf club, which is about as much use as an asparagus spear when the robber puts a knife to his wife's throat before escaping into the peaceful Beverly Hills night.

Russell, now effectively emasculated, and Stowe, her artery still heaving from the knife's caress, are reassured by Liotta's solicitous public servant. Brought up to respect authority, they begin to think of him as Mother Teresa packing heat and a friendship develops like a tender shoot among the three of them.

Liotta, who feels undervalued by society, revels in his newfound acceptance from these upscale law-abiders, especially the empathetic Stowe. Things are going quite swimmingly, in fact, when Liotta exposes his true colors. Known for his hairy-scary parts in "Something Wild" and "Wise Guys," the actor makes a dandy maniac -- innocent as a lamb, yet as deliberate as a mousing cat. A crafty sort, he plays on Stowe's doubts and erodes Russell's aspirations to drive a wedge between them.

Stowe, a luxuriantly expressive actress familiar with the victim's role in the arduous "Closet Land," and the tirelessly boyish Russell play hapless stalkees of an obsessed fiend as well as their recent counterparts in "Patriot Games," "Cape Fear" and "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle." It's just that we've had our cradle rocked enough already. We've got the formula down pat and so does screenwriter Lewis Colick, who even wrote in the obligatory vulnerable-girl-takes-shower scene.

The plot is as tediously redundant as director Jonathan Kaplan's approach is carefully workmanlike. Not one to shrink from sensational topics such as the gang rape in his excellent film "The Accused," Kaplan treats this inflammatory material with more respect than it deserves. Waiting for Liotta to seduce, stalk and finally lay his hands on Stowe is as predictable as the onset of allergies during grass pollen week.

Though it pretends to examine the dangerous stalker phenomenon, "Unlawful Entry" is basically "Fatal Attraction" in handcuffs. And while it refers pointedly to the Rodney King incident -- "These days everybody's got a home video," quips a precinct captain -- it is an advocate for violence and brutality. When reasonable men's faithful wives are threatened, it counsels, pull a magnum, not a three-iron.

"Unlawful Entry" is rated R for violence, profanity and nudity.

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