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'Masquerade' (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 14, 1988

The girlish intrigue of Gothic romance mingles with the social sophistry of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" in the mushy, pokey "Masquerade." With its wan heroine and its haughty Hamptons backdrop, this is Robin Leachiness dusted with Daphne du Maurier.

Meg Tilly has the central role of the recently orphaned heiress Olivia, a fragile girl gifted with the awkward grace of a shore-bound swan and the tentative charm of an Audrey Hepburn. She is a poor little rich girl whose late mother left her not only millions, but also a wicked stepfather. John Glover is out of control as this conniving faux pa, a drunk who makes scenes at garden parties and plots against his stepdaughter.

He flies into a rage when she takes up with the handsome yachtsman Tim, an ambitious Romeo played by the bland but beautiful Rob Lowe. Though she is warned off by Mike (Doug Savant), a Hamptons police officer who guards parties and has a crush on her, Olivia is determined to marry Tim. They both love yachting so. And she believes he is interested in her, not her millions. But what evil lurks behind that cover boy's face?

Bob Swaim, director of the bang-up French thriller "La Balance," meant this tangle of love and treachery as an '80s film noir -- and "Miami Vice" writer Dick Wolf actually penned a labored but workable plot. But face it, Lowe is no Bogart, no Cary Grant. And matinee idol or not, Lowe is no sexpot. That doesn't stop the insensitive Swaim -- who similarly humiliated Sigourney Weaver in "Half Moon Street" -- from greasing the guy up for humid scenes with Tilly and Kim Cattrall, a cat as Brooke, the lusty wife of Lowe's boss.

Lowe gets near a woman and he starts to sweat like a pig in a sauna. The moist Lothario gives Brooke a pair of black lace scanties for her birthday. "Shall I put them on?" she queries coyly. "I can't bite them off if you don't," he says, attempting to leer. But he only looks like a Ken doll caught with his pants down. Tilly, on the other hand, is working so fiercely as the loving dupe that she manages to make their love scenes credible, though they certainly do look uncomfortable.

Swaim has a gym teacher's sense of the erotic matched with a jackhammer's flair for the subtleties of psychological artifice. For him, the score fills up the long, meaningful pauses, the world turns, the plot twists, Tim sweats. Oh, for the days when a kiss was just a kiss.

"Masquerade" is rated R for sexual situations.

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