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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 18, 1988


Rocky Morton;
Annabel Jankel
Dennis Quaid;
Meg Ryan;
Charlotte Rampling;
Daniel Stern;
Jane Kaczmarek
Under 17 restricted

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"D.O.A.," starring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan isn't dead on arrival, but its mindless flash suggests an acute case of artistic rigor mortis.

As ever, Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan are good to watch. As a man facing impending death, Quaid winningly mixes his boyish sex appeal with desperation; as his collegiate helpmate, Ryan is lithe and perky. But with regard to the wonderfully dark 1949 B-movie classic of the same name, the effort is not quite up to snuff. Screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue's version is less "D.O.A." than M.T.V.

The spellbinding horror you felt in the original "D.O.A." for doomed insurance executive Edmond O'Brien is absolutely lost here. Instead it's Quaid and Ryan stumbling their way through a nonstop music video of topsy-turvy camera angles, black-and-white images, color images, black-and white again, unrelenting rock music, slow motion and freeze-frames. (Co-directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel invented Max Headroom.) And Pogue's updating from the 1949 world of insurance to 1988 college academia gets mixed grades: an A for the idea, an Incomplete for the execution.

Jaded English professor "Dex" Cornell (Quaid) is burned out on novel-writing, trying to save a toppling marriage while fending off adoring student Syd (Ryan) as well as pushy student Nick, who wants Dex to read his first novel. Suddenly Nick's dead from a fall and, it turns out, the student was very friendly with Dex's wife (Jane Kaczmarek), not to mention some other key dames. Worst of all, after a night-long drunken binge to forget his problems, Dex discovers someone has poisoned him fatally. He has less than 48 hours to live, to find his soon-to-be-killer. Oh and he's a prime suspect for two murders.

Somewhere in all this is the pale Charlotte Rampling as a frosty, rich eccentric who financed Nick's education. Her enigmatic, sinister expressions at the beginning of the movie promise her reappearance. Her chauffeur Bernard doesn't seem to mind when you stub cigarettes out on his hand. You get the feeling he'll be back also.

The ending shouldn't be given away, but it hangs on a laughable motivation for murder that says more about the plagiaristic zen of Hollywood and screenwriters than anything else.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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