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'Goodbye' and Good Riddance

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 1999

  Movie Critic

Goodbye, Lover
Patricia Arquette plays a femme fatale in the tres banal "Goodbye, Lover." (Warner Bros.)

Roland Joffe
Patricia Arquette;
Don Johnson;
Dermot Mulroney;
Mary-Louise Parker;
Ellen DeGeneres;
Vincent Gallo
Running Time:
1 hour, 44 minutes
Contains obscenity, nudity, sex scenes and violence
In "Goodbye Lover," the rules are stark, dark and simple: In the pursuit of love and money (not necessarily in that order, of course), every possible treachery, infidelity or little murder is permitted. Get your story straight before the cops grill you. And watch your back: No one can be trusted except, maybe, people from Salt Lake City.

Welcome to the dirty intersection of passion and greed made cute, with Patricia Arquette, Don Johnson, Ellen DeGeneres and others to make it even cuter.

But despite some entertaining moments throughout the movie, "Goodbye Lover," directed by Roland Joffe, sinks into its own nihilistic pit of mediocre vipers. There's a lot of humorous nipping, but it seems like a slow, unseemly way to go.

Arquette is Sandra Dunmore, a wacked out, sexy, baby-voiced woman having an extramarital affair with public relations hotshot Ben Dunmore (Johnson), a kind of immaculately suited, fallen yuppie modeled on the Michael Douglas persona.

When we first meet these two, she visits him in the organ section of a church, where he plays music. She slips a disk of "The Immaculata" into the organ, and while programmed music accompanies the choir below, the illicit lovers enjoy their own personal rhapsody.

The entanglements are many. Sandra's husband, the dark, alcoholic Jake Dunmore (Dermot Mulroney), happens to be Ben's younger brother. He also works in the same ad agency. And while Ben is stealing naughty moments with his own brother's wife, Jake is busy plunging into a morass of depression, while also making flirtatious stabs at shy colleague Peggy Blaine (Mary-Louise Parker).

When one of the players falls victim to secret scheming, Detective Rita Pompano (DeGeneres) starts probing the case. But the detective may be the most cynical one of the lot. To paraphrase her philosophy, life is horrible, we all die and the only good thing about being a cop is, once in a while, you get to shoot people.

"Goodbye Lover" isn't nearly as dark or character-driven as it thinks it is. Screenwriters Ron Peer, Joel Cohen (in no way connected to the funnier Joel Coen) and Alec Sokolow infuse the story with offbeat eccentricity that feels like the comic equivalent of silicone implants. Sandra is obsessed with "The Sound of Music" and self-help tapes. Between gymnastic bouts with Ben, she's forever listening to (and simultaneously reciting) self-help tapes about Finding the Passion in Your Life or "The Sound of Music." And Detective Pompano seems to be a recycled, much more cynical spin on the Marge detective character in the Coen brothers' "Fargo," as she insults her goofy partner (Alex Rocco) for his cheesy naivete.

The movie becomes so convoluted in its wry-noir scheme and narrative twisteroos, it turns banal and wearisome. But its entertaining moments amount to passing sparks, a little bit of comic or sexy business from Arquette here, a barbed gibe from DeGeneres there. By the end, you're still in the story, but not exactly on tenterhooks. You're just indulgently waiting for the drama to complete itself.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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