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‘Sleeping With the Enemy’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 08, 1991

In "Sleeping With the Enemy," Julia Roberts runs away from abusive, chilling husband Patrick Bergin by faking a drowning. She puts on a wig, grabs a stash of cash, cops a new name and hops on the bus to Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Ah, but the movie's only just begun. You know Bergin's going to find out what she did. You know he's going to come looking. You know he's a monster. You also know the lovely new house she's now renting will host the edge-of-the-seat finale. That's what homes are for.

And in the wake of movies like "Jagged Edge," "Fatal Attraction" and director Joseph Ruben's own (and much better) "The Stepfather," you also know that the only thing that can stop these relentless SOBs is a bullet. When the inevitable moment happens, watch the audience, normally such well-adjusted people at the office, rise to their feet and yell, "Kill! Kill! Kill!"

There's really only one thing to do in "Enemy": Hang out in float-parade Iowa with pretty Julia until the bogeyman comes. You like Van Morrison? While you wait, the movie plays "Brown Eyed Girl" (you know: "La-la-la-la-la-la-la . . . ").

This is also the time for Roberts to get to know nice, available drama teacher Kevin Anderson, who just happens to live next door. He does madcap routines from "West Side Story" with a garden hose. He burns the pot roast on his first date. As he watches with loving, sensitive eyes, Roberts tries on hats in the props department. She tosses her hair. They dance. He spins her around ("La-la-la-la," etc.). It's a marriage made in Hollywood.

Please Mr. Bergin Monster, find them and kill them.

Ruben, at least, is adept with suspense tactics. He keeps Bergin lurking off screen for an agonizingly long time and he knows his suspenseful way around a bathtub. There's also some respectably scary business to do with neatly arranged bathroom towels and food cans in the pantry. But Ruben is merely modulating mediocre material.

No one in this movie can be accused of doing his best. Roberts is lazily phoning in her People magazine look and Bergin (Sir Richard Burton in "Mountains of the Moon") is just a pantomime villain. Then there are all those unanswered questions: Didn't she think he'd hear about this former non-swimmer's pool lessons at the Y before she "drowned"? How did Roberts know they'd be invited on a yacht from which to fake her drowning? Did she really think her wedding ring would flush down the toilet -- especially in a thriller like this?

Perhaps these flaws are not important. Maybe this movie's just about getting the beast to chase the beauty, then killing him.

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