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‘Revenge’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 16, 1990

Tony Scott's "Revenge" is fascinating for one reason only -- as an example of full-scale, mega-star perversity. The star, in this case, is Kevin Costner, and there's a willfulness in the extremes to which he's gone here to alienate his public. Costner pitches his performance at his audience like a dare, as if he were seeing how far out on a limb it's willing to climb with him.

The answer is, not this far. In its heart of tawdry hearts, "Revenge" is little more than "Dynasty" with shotguns, but it's not honest enough with itself even to provide the fast and dirty pleasures of low-pitched melodrama. And in the absence of real depth, Costner's challenge to his audience comes across as a gratuitous flexing of star muscle.

"Revenge" has no subject other than its own slick and impersonal style. Everything is played like sex, or at least the kind of sex we know from television commercials, in which every shot is a come-on and the air is honey-thick with suggested meaning. The momentum is haltingly slow, as if Scott were moving huge, weighty pieces of story into place in order to express monumental themes.

Costner plays an ex-fighter jock named Cochran who, after his retirement from the Air Force, travels to Mexico to enjoy the hospitality of his friend, Tibey (Anthony Quinn). A man of great wealth, Tibey is a kind of Mexican godfather who fills his stables of power with lackeys and politicians. This is the kind of vulgar but robustly virile, up-from-the-gutter character that Quinn specializes in, and he manages to give a kind of peasant grandeur to Tibey's violent egotism. It's inconceivable, though, that his character and Costner's could be more than passing acquaintances. Scott labors manfully to establish a bond of masculine sympathies, but there's nothing vital between them.

Nothing, that is, except Tibey's slinky wife, Miryea. Played by Madeleine Stowe, Miryea is Tibey's sable-haired bauble, his trophy. But though he provides her with every physical comfort, he won't give her what she really wants -- a baby -- and so she slinks around the estate, an aloof but formidable goddess, lording over the bodyguards with a moody pout. The thaw sets in very quickly after Cochran's arrival, though. Soon they are strolling the beach and stealing glances at each other over dinner.

In these early love scenes, Costner has an appealing boyish goofiness. He's not exactly bad in the film, particularly when he's so love-befuddled that he can't remember how to make lemonade. But the role is designed too much along vigilante lines to allow him much room to maneuver. And by the film's end, he's transformed himself into a violently ugly action hero.

There's no way for Stowe to have made a success of her character, but she comes close. What the filmmakers seemed to have wanted is a mannequin, a bland and impassive boy-toy, but what they got was a doll with a real woman trapped inside. She's a true beauty, but she adds a note of real pathos to her sexiness.

Costner not only stars in the film but executive produced it as well, and the story that he and Scott tell -- which is based on a Jim Harrison novella -- is meant to be unrelentingly tough and unsentimental. But with Scott directing, the world loses its reality. The movie they've made is about the deepest kind of cynicism there is -- the kind when everything, love and revenge included, is meaningless. But my bet is they don't even know it.

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