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'Gloria': Barbie Moll Tressed for Excess

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 23, 1999

  Movie Critic

Sharon Stone stars as "Gloria." (Columbia)

Sidney Lumet
Sharon Stone;
Jean-Luke Figueroa;
Jeremy Northam;
Cathy Moriarty;
Mike Starr;
George C. Scott;
Bonnie Bedelia
Running Time:
1 hour, 48 minutes
For violence directed at children and bad New York accents.
With apologies to the Shadows of Knight, G-L-O-R-I-A is A-W-F-U-L.

In fact the best thing about "Gloria" is that it recalled that old rock anthem and set it to kicking through the cobwebs of my brain as the film itself -- otherwise unrelated to the 1966 hit -- unspooled in banal dreariness on the screen. Hey, it's January and the weather inside the theater was grayer than the weather outside it.

This is Sharon Stone's bad hair movie. Every actress, great or ungreat, has a bad hair movie she's pining to do, and I suspect it's a perk of stardom when they get the chance. (I can hear the agent: "No, no. Puhleeze, I'm begging here, no." Actress: "But the hair! Ratty, tall, knotty, Medusaesque, grotesque, buggy, squiggly, endless, like mattress stuffing. Who could say no?") Michelle Pfeiffer's bad hair movie was "Love Field," and Demi Moore's was "Mortal Thoughts"; Barbra Streisand's was -- oh, that's right, all of Barbra Streisand's are bad hair movies.

The film also enables Stone to affect another showy trope beloved of Thespian vanity, a loud, cheesy if somewhat generic New York accent. This is not as hard to do as it seems, and it must not be confused with actual acting: You just have to remember that all R's are exchanged for W's and the words are ejected through the nasal passages with the force of a sneeze.

Stone plays Gloria, a West Side Irish mobster's former girlfriend who took a rap for him and did three years in a Florida pen, where obviously she didn't take any hairdressing classes or even get a trim. I think they let her go because there was no more room in her cell for her hair.

She returns to New York, where she wants payback for her lost time, precisely as that boyfriend Kevin (Jeremy Northam) has sent his louts to bump off a larcenous accountant and family. The murder of the family feels gratuitous, but it sets up the rest of the movie: The one survivor is the excessively cute 7-year-old son, Nicky (Jean-Luke Figueroa), who connects through ridiculous coincidence with Gloria at gang headquarters. The two of them go on the lam, hunted by the mobsters, Gloria not realizing that (a) the kid has a computer disk that could blow the whole gang to the coppers, and that (b) she has a heart of gold.

Mostly this is just an excuse for Stone to show her legs, all nine feet of them, and a largely dynel leopard skin wardrobe (100 percent acetate, highly flammable) and run around in heels tall enough to get her into women's professional basketball. In fact, one particular perversity of the film requires her to run a lot, and since she's wearing those high heels, she always looks infirm, and just about out of control.

Another perversity is a car chase through Manhattan that feels just like any other ordinary taxi ride through Manhattan, and possibly even a little better.

And who is the auteur of this madness? Alas, none other than the great Sidney Lumet, distinguished helmsman of "The Pawnbroker," "The Group," "12 Angry Men," "Network" and "Dog Day Afternoon," and if I list any more I'll begin to weep. What is going on? This guy couldn't see through this script? Shame.

I found myself praying that the film would jam and melt and, well past the halfway point, it did, and I was sprung, 30 minutes early. Not only that, but you know how it is when the image freezes, then curdles and bubbles as it liquifies and blackens into a final twisted little crisp like a Frito that's been hit with a blowtorch? You know that? That was really cool.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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