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‘Mr. Frost’ (PG-13)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 12, 1990

Nothing that Jeff Goldblum does in "Mr. Frost" is commonplace or expected. Every line has a bizarre kink in it, every gesture a gloriously weird bit of filigree.

A blissfully eccentric actor, Goldblum inhabits an off-kilter world all his own, and, considering the character he plays here, the rococo shadings are perfectly appropriate.

Written and directed by Philip Setborn, this stiflingly lamebrained film tells the story of an English gentleman (Goldblum) whose sprawling country estate is discovered to be the final resting ground for 24 mutilated corpses, all of whom were tortured and killed by this mysteriously laconic figure. Nothing whatsoever is known about Mr. Frost; there's no record of a date or place of birth, no school or government records, no one even knows his first name.

At the film's beginning he's visited by police detective Detweiller (Alan Bates), who's invited into the kitchen and offered a dish of Baked Alaska. When he declines, Frost takes a Polaroid of his creation, pins it on the wall with numerous others, and scrapes the whole dessert into the trash can. "I'm interested only in the trophy," he says dryly.

Frost, it seems, is no mere psycho; he's evil incarnate, Mephistopheles, Beelzebub, the Prince of Darkness, the Devil. After two years in prison -- during which time he has defied the psychoanalytic efforts of Europe's leading headshrinkers by refusing to utter a single word -- he's transferred to a posh clinic in the country, where he decides to reveal himself to Sarah Day (Kathy Baker), a brash young psychiatrist on staff. Frost has come back to us, it seems, with a mission.

He's angry with science, he says, for replacing faith with facts. So long as there was a struggle between good and evil, people paid some attention to him. Now, everyone ignores him; he's a nobody and, well, he's not happy about it. What's needed, Frost figures, is a victory over science. If he can get Day to kill him, then she will have admitted her impotence; she will have believed in him.

To accomplish this, he reaches into his devilish bag of tricks. In addition to the more routine bits of sleight-of-hand -- squeezing her ring until it's a puddle of silver, effortlessly snatching flies from the air, causing spontaneous nosebleeds and the like -- he cures her crippled brother and sends her favorite patient on a killing spree.

When asked why he would do something nice, like curing her brother, he says, "Well, good can sometimes come of evil. I, uh, work in mysterious ways."

The movie works in no way whatsoever, mysterious or otherwise. It's thoroughgoing nonsense from start to finish. But then there is Goldblum. Thousands of actors have played Lucifer, but none has ever given him this particular charismatic brand of idiosyncratic loopiness. This Devil is maddeningly quixotic. Smack in the middle of a treatise on the powers of evil, he'll shift gears. "Doctor, if you can just help me stop wetting the bed. It's a ... real problem."

Whenever Goldblum is onscreen, the movie becomes a wild parody of itself -- something the filmmakers may not have had in mind. Unfortunately, there is less and less of Goldblum as the movie goes along, and more and more of less gifted actors trying to figure out just what kind of movie they're in. Despite some strenuous efforts from both Bates and Baker, and Goldblum's inspired diddling, the answer to that is painfully clear almost from the start. What kind of movie? A very, very bad one.

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