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‘The January Man’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 13, 1989

Eliot called April the cruelest month, but then he hadn't seen "The January Man." Billed as a mystery with romance and comedy, it is a damp sock of a movie that makes you wish for leap year.

Kevin Kline plays eccentric Nick Starkey, a former cop who is the only man (for no particular reason) who can catch a serial killer who has murdered 11 women in the past 11 months. Against his better judgment, the mayor of New York (Rod Steiger) and Nick's old superiors reluctantly reinstate the renegade. Among them is Nick's estranged brother (Harvey Keitel), a real frowner.

Since the killer only strikes once a month, he's never around to scare up any tension-a housewife approaching a potato with a peeler is more fearsome. The sex, like the violence, is empty with Susan Sarandon becalmed as Nick's old flame turned sister-in-law. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio gives off the only sparks as the mayor's lovely daughter, who becomes entranced with the rumpled hero.

Starkey is a domestic Sherlock who lets the case cool while the wine breathes. A gourmet cook and computer genius, he solves the absurd case in minutes, which saves plenty of time for making marinated eggplant, a side dish for the red herring.

What "The January Man" needs is the basics-a villain, dramatic conflict, maybe even a little old-fashioned head-banging. "Moonstruck" writer John Patrick Shanley and Irish director Pat O'Connor are absolutely out of their league, a couple of artists slumming, hoping to bring sensitivity to a genre that could well use it. But all they've done is make you appreciate the true value of the car chase.

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