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‘Sliver’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 21, 1993

If there were any moss on Sharon Stone we would have seen it in "Sliver," a pricey and perverted thriller with sex, lies, videotape and murder. A souped-up, pornographic adaptation of Ira Levin's novel by "Basic Instinct's" Joe Eszterhas, it's essentially "Rear Window" with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, a remote control and a well-fingered playback button.

Stone plays the sleek, rather sweet-faced Carly Norris, a tell-all book editor who gets back some of her own when she hooks up with her new landlord, Zeke (Billy Baldwin), a high-tech peeping tom who has bugged every cranny of a fashionable Manhattan high-rise. A slip of a skyscraper dubbed "a sliver" by New Yorkers, this particular building has frequent vacancies, what with its tenants falling from their balconies or slipping in their showers.

Never mind, Carly likes the view and the circular tub, where she spends the first night in her apartment getting to know herself a little better. Unbeknown to Carly -- who has probably already found the perfect partner for herself but doesn't know it -- Zeke is observing the goings-on (edited to lose the NC-17 rating) from his many-monitored headquarters. As we learn later, his mother used to be a soap opera star and it left him with this thing for television screens. His apartment looks like Circuit City.

Recently divorced from a boring guy who was into print, Carly is attracted to Zeke, even though he looks like Dagwood's evil twin. At first, Zeke pretends to be nothing more than a helpful neighbor with healthy hormones. When Carly moves in, he directs her to the nearest market, helps her haul cartons and takes her to the sliver gym where he wows her with an enthusiastic set of reps on the Butt Blaster.

The next thing you know, she's shedding her clothes like a snake with eczema. The effect is not so much steamy as it is seamy. For all their seeming abandon, there's something rather pitiful about these soulful characters. New York: so full of people with telescopes and yet, so lonely. As Carly puts it to her wisecracking crony -- the one who talks about getting a plastic yeast infection from her vibrator -- "After seven years of marriage, I haven't got a life." This becomes all the more obvious when Carly learns of Zeke's voyeurism and becomes increasingly obsessed with the daily lives of her neighbors -- an abused child, a guy with a tumor, just plain folks going through their lives in the regular way.

Zeke gets off on omniscience and occasionally likes to play God, but Carly is frightened by her reaction. "I want my own experiences, my privacy," she wails, but Zeke cannot be weaned from the boob tube. Here's where the story starts to become deeper and more interesting, like Atom Egoyan's comment on privacy, technology and communications, "Family Viewing."

But this is a commercial movie -- $50 million worth -- so Eszterhas gets back to what sells -- sex and violence, as mystery writer Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger) says. Jack, another sick puppy in this high-rise of horror, makes a play for Carly, but she simply isn't interested in a guy with writer's block. Besides, he's probably the creep behind those mysterious deaths.

Phillip Noyce, the Australian who directed "Patriot Games" and "Dead Calm," knows from thrillers, but "Sliver" is more of a friller. It's not scary but the decorator was good. Stone, who spends a considerable amount of time biting her lip, chewing her finger, moaning, grunting, writhing and wiggling, also proves that she's a good actress when she is wearing her underpants. It's just that Baldwin can leave no side of Stone unturned and there's so little time to emote.

"Sliver" is rated R for sex, violence and profanity.

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