"EYE of the Beholder" is an intriguing anomaly: a bizarre front-end collision between art film and formulaic romance-thriller.
This mangled project is neither great art nor grand entertainment but, because it floors the pedal for both, it has a certain resplendent awfulness. Or is that a certain awful resplendence?
Either way, we are talking two weeks, max, at your local 'plex before this thing is put up on bricks in the video store.
But let us point out some good things about this movie. For a good hour, this movie--which stars Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd--is a fascinating experience.
Its rules are almost dream rules: anything goes, no matter how absurd, because the whole story is jacked into McGregor's emotional state. (I don't remember his character being named, but the credits call him The Eye because he uses the phrase "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" as a voice match to get past the security gate at work.)
The Eye, an intensely private, free-wheeling British intelligence agent in Washington, gets an assignment to follow a woman (Judd) suspected of blackmailing the son of a senior government official.
Her name, he eventually finds out, is Joanna Eris. I'm not sure if writer-director Stephan Elliott (who made "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert") was trying to evoke Eris, the goddess of strife and discord. But Joanna is about as discordant as they come; she lures men and then kills them. Then she throws on a new wig, or a new coat, and moves to a new state.
The Eye, who watches her activities with the most sophisticated arsenal of surveillance equipment since Harry Caul's bag of tricks in "The Conversation," catches it all. And he follows her to Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Death Valley and a few other places I lost track of. There are more changes of locale in this movie, it seems, than several James Bond pictures.
It should also be pointed out that a small phantom schoolgirl in a plaid skirt keeps tagging along with The Eye. She's the daughter that haunts him, the one that he lost (along with his wife) because he wasn't paying attention. It doesn't get more specific than that for a while. So we simply have to accept this spectral sidekick. It's also clear from the get-go that Joanna kills because of some childhood thing--as usual. And we know we're eventually going to hear about the awful thing from Joanna's past that explains it all. That's the formula part of the movie.
Unfortunately, "Eye of the Beholder" loses control, even by its own standards. By the time The Eye finds himself protecting Joanna from a sick, depraved drifter played by Jason Priestley, it's over. The only pleasures, at this point, are secondary. Both stars are attractive to watch, of course. Ewan's a comely, blue-eyed laddie. It's also good that he does not try to speak like the young Obi-Wan Kenobi. And to watch Judd, as she assumes various identities is a sort of catwalk pleasure in itself. To say nothing of the bubble baths she takes. But all else is a bad accident waiting to happen.
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER (R, 110 minutes) -- Contains nudity, violence and obscenity. Area theaters.