As Jack, the sexually threatening psychotic chasing Diane Lane in "Lady Beware," Michael Woods does the most disgusting thing I've ever seen a movie villain do. Jack is an X-ray technician who works across the street from a department store in Pittsburgh, and he is turned on by the provocative window displays created by Katya (Diane Lane), the store's new merchandising genius. He begins taunting her with phone calls. Then he breaks into her mailbox. Then he peeks through her window as she bathes (by candlelight, sipping champagne). Finally, he breaks into her loft and defiles it.

So what's the awful thing? He uses her toothbrush. Ooohh! And doesn't even rinse it off.

The movie is about how a woman artist -- window dressers can be artists, too -- is penalized for bringing her fantasy life out into the open. As such, it has a vaguely feminist slant to it. Jack terrorizes Katya by attacking not her body -- which he fully intends to get around to -- but her imagination. His whispers into the phone that they were meant for each other, that the two of them are just alike -- visionaries who see through the shallow lies that the rest of the world timidly turns away from.

The movie bears a vague resemblance to another thriller, "The Eyes of Laura Mars," which was also about a risk-taking woman artist. But this picture is much more modest and much less effective. There is a televisiony smallness in its focus -- and while director Karen Arthur treats her story seriously, she has only a rudimentary feel for the medium and fails to bring the suspense elements to a boil.

As Katya, Lane does manage to convey some of the suffering inflicted by this sort of psychological rape. Lane's reached a fascinating point as a performer -- a place somewhere between being a woman and a girl -- so that in some scenes she's able to come across as strikingly mature and self-possessed and, in others, as a frightened child, small and vulnerable. This isn't a great performance; the script by Susan Miller and Charles Zev Cohen is too thinly conceived, too routine, for that. But you can believe it when she outsmarts her pursuer and catches him in his own trap. Her farawayness, too, her habit of seeming alone and off to herself, a little unreachable, also works well in the role. I don't know what kind of actress she is or how good she can be, but this is movement in the right direction.

Lady Beware, at area theaters, is rated R and contains some nudity and suggestive material.