Early in "Desperate Hours," Michael Cimino's remake of the 1955 Humphrey Bogart thriller, we learn that Michael Bosworth (Mickey Rourke), the film's criminal protagonist, has completed the creative writing program at Johns Hopkins University and has an IQ of over 130.
Smart, huh? SO WHY ISN'T HE SMART ENOUGH TO SHAVE BEFORE HIS PAROLE HEARING?
With help from his attorney (Kelly Lynch), Bosworth escapes from the authorities and takes up residence in a rich suburban neighborhood at the home of Tim and Nora Cornells (Anthony Hopkins and Mimi Rogers), whose family is already being torn asunder by Tim's affair with a younger woman. Claiming only to need safe harbor for a few hours while he waits for his leggy lawyer friend to join him, he makes himself at home, insinuating himself with his soft-voiced threats into the daily routine.
It's hard to think of an actor who would be scarier in the role of a domestic invader than Rourke. After all, he might use your towels. Sitting in the Cornells' living room, at their dinner table, hopping down the stairs in Tim's formal clothes, Rourke nearly whispers his lines, all to ominous, if fairly ludicrous, effect. "A man is not really a man unless he can mix a proper martini or tie a bow tie," he says on his way down to dinner.
As they say in the New Yorker: "Noted."
The family strife that serves as a background for the action is a new wrinkle, and somehow Cimino would like us to see how this intrusion helps Nora overcome her distrust for her husband and heal their marriage. But the director is too concerned with his own brawny camera-flexing to carry us past the superficialities of hostage trauma.
The actors are much more talented than they need to be for their one-dimensional characters. Still, Rogers's jilted bitterness is marvelously affecting early on. Hopkins, on the other hand, turns in his finest stuff later in the film, when he's forced to face down Bosworth's threats with some of his own.
And Rourke is, in fact, exceedingly creepy. There's an unpredictable, resonant menace in his eccentricity. But Cimino can't connect the movie's thriller elements to its themes. We end up spending way too much time indoors while this thug waves a gun at these poor innocents. And whenever we step out of the house, there's Lindsay Crouse as an FBI agent, looking like Harpo Marx in her frizzed-out blond wig, and sounding like Scarlett O'Hara.
Quick, everybody, back into the house!
The filmmakers also find every opportunity to pop the buttons on Lynch's blouse and, in the process, manage to insult both her and us. The film's central metaphor, as it's set up, tells us that everyone is at risk. When Nora asks, "Why us?" Bosworth answers, "Fate, I suppose." Well, in the case of "Desperate Hours," Fate be damned.
Desperate Hours, at area theaters, is rated R for violence, nudity and profane language.