The movies directed by former fashion photographer Jerry Schatzberg - "Puzzle of a Downfall Child," "The Panic in Needle Park," "Scarecrow" and now "Sweet Revenge," launched inauspiciously at the 1976 Cannes Festival under the title "Dandy, the All-American Girl" - have a curious distinguishing feature: flatness. Perhaps it's discernible during the shooting or even editing, but it becomes as stifling as an unventilated room in the finished product.
A director doesn't need to be as likably dynamic as Steven Spielberg or dislikably dynamic as Ken Russell to hold an audience's attention. However, it's essential to feel a minimum level of energy sustaining any given sequence or progression of sequences.
The story itself should generate some measurable urgency and suspence. The protagonist, played by Stockard Channing, is a cat thief who hopes to finance her foundest dream of status and security - the purchase of a luxury sports car, a $20,000 Dino Ferrari - by pulling off a series of thefts. There are bench warrants out for her arrest under five different names. A sixth is added when she stands up a nice, liberal patsy of a public defender - very agreeably played by Sam Waterston - who has given her the benefit of the doubt.
One can imagine Dandy's compulsive, criminal quest leading to an engrossing little melodrama, but under Schatzberg's direction it merely leads from one unstressed scene to the next. Shot on location in Seattle by the great Vilmos Zsigmond, whose credits include "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," "Deliverance" and "The Sugarland Express," the movie doesn't lack photogenic attractions, but it's listless just beneath the surface.
The overwhelming liability of Schatzberg's lethargic touch is aggravated by other alienating touches. Dandy might have been an exciting opportunity for a hungry young actress with a kind of scrawny, hoydenish, insolvent appeal. Stockard Channing looks to plump to give Dandy the tense, desperate edge the character needs to produce the appropriate mythic-poignant vibrations.
It seems particularly inexcusable when the character played by Franklyn Ajaye, purportedly a bosom pal from childhood named Edmund, must be sacrificed in order for Dandy to see the light. When she ignites her Ferrari at the fadeout, one really can't be certain this a sign of maturity.