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‘Dead Ringers’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 23, 1988


David Cronenberg
Jeremy Irons;
Genevieve Bujold;
Heidi Von Palleske;
Stephen Lack
Under 17 restricted

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David Cronenberg who made household tenants develop monster-parasites in "Shivers," brains explode in "Scanners," stomachs rip open in "Videodrome," and Jeff Goldblum look even more like an insect in "The Fly," makes twins of Jeremy Irons in "Dead Ringers," a Grimm's tale about two identical gynecologists who pool their identities -- and share their women -- with lethal consequences.

"Ringers'" eerie-steely qualities will separate the Cronenberg fans and serious cine'astes from those who thought this was a caper farce starring Bette Midler and Shelley Long. But for those who enjoy cinematic visits to other, darker worlds, this blood's for you. Watching "Ringers" is not unlike watching a critical operation -- unnerving but also enthralling.

The Canadian director enlivens that old movie standby, the split-screen process, with computerized state-of-the-art finesse, so that Irons (in a finely snipped, doubly assured performance) interacts credibly with himself. He is both Drs. Elliot and Beverly Mantle, who have grown up studying women with biological, up-close-and-

personal fervor. Now successful physicians in a Toronto fertility clinic, the identical brothers legitimately treat sexually frustrated women by day; by night they make erotic house calls.

Elliot, a self-confident go-getter, hustles research money, gives good acceptance speeches and "warms up" the women. Beverly, who doesn't have his brother's social savoir faire, follows through gratefully, posing as his brother at critical moments.

When drug-dependent actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold) checks into their lives, that fraternal fabric is torn apart. Beverly falls in love with Claire, but cannot break his emotional dependency on Elliot. He deteriorates into drug dependency himself and spirals downward. It is Elliot who must take bloody and decisive action.

Surprisingly, Cronenberg, known for his latexed viscera, avoids sheer freak show, conducting this otherworldly operation with sympathy for the patients. Cowriting with Canadian journalist Norman Snider, he goes less forcibly for the jugular than usual, opting instead for the soft tissue of eccentric human desires. And Irons and Bujold give breadth to three otherwise aberrant characters, making their plight in Cronenberg's strange world curiously touching.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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