Gun-happy as Dirty Harry and ham-fisted as Hulk Hogan, Whoopi Goldberg gives another of her angry, sexually ambiguous performances in "Fatal Beauty," a clunky thriller that recalls "Burglar" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Here she plays a joke-cracking, trash-talking drug-buster who seems determined to blast away, punch out or make eunuchs of half of L.A.
In this repetitive, implausible adventure, the comedian plays the street-smart narcotics cop Rita Rizzoli, who goes undercover with her by-the-book partner to locate a stash of extra-strength cocaine. For reasons that never come clear, a drug ring kingpin assigns his personal bodyguard, the graying hunk Mike Marshak, to protect the irascible Rizzoli as she fights crime.
Sam Elliott, the boyfriend in "Mask," makes a personable foil as Marshak -- an especially welcome relief as an easygoing gunman opposite Goldberg's harridan on steroids. Marshak and Rizzoli enjoy bloody shoot-outs together, gain mutual respect and finally become offscreen lovers. After chasing around L.A., they catch up with a pair of drug dealers at a mall and shoot them till they're ground meat. It looks like a shopping center in downtown Beirut.
Tom ("Fright Night") Holland's direction is every bit as trite as the screenplay by novice Hilary Henkin and Dean Riesner, who's also cowritten "Dirty Harry" and "The Enforcer." Not surprisingly, this is a generic make-my-day movie, except that it's a woman who dispenses the Cobra-style justice and drop-dead dialogue.
Everything about "Fatal Beauty" is borrowed and worn, except for Elliott and Rube'n Blades, engaging as the squad car sidekick of Lady Shaft. He's a token Hispanic. Elliott and the bad guys are white, and so is the chief of police. Like Eddie Murphy in "Beverly Hills Cop," Goldberg is virtually the only black in her movie. It seems awkward and weird, a cinematic apartheid of the sort that "She's Gotta Have It" director Spike Lee has criticized.
Of course, Goldberg has the right to her machismo, her hooker shtick, her jive dialogue. And maybe she has no control over the racial balance of the cast. And she has the right to throw away her talent on cheap parts. But it's beginning to look as if she hasn't a bit of depth. Maybe her performance in "The Color Purple" was a fluke? Maybe the color green is what counts for Goldberg.
"Fatal Beauty," bloody, boring and pandering, is as poisonous as the drug trade it pretends to defame. It is a man-hating, nasty-minded star destroyer.
Goldberg might as well be a whoopi cushion.
Fatal Beauty, at area theaters, is rated R for language and violence.