`Color Of Night': Another Dim Thriller

Movie review X 1/2 "Color of Night," with Bruce Willis, Jane March, Ruben Blades, Lesley Ann Warren, Brad Dourif, Kevin J. O'Connor. Directed by Richard Rush, from a script by Matthew Chapman and Billy Ray. Alderwood, Aurora, Broadway Market, Everett 9, Gateway, Guild 45th, Kent, Kirkland Parkplace, Mountlake 9, Renton Village, Valley drive-in. "R" - Restricted because of language, violence, sex scenes.

Were expectations running too high for this "erotic thriller" from legendary director Richard Rush, who hasn't completed a movie in 14 years? Or is it really the full-blown fiasco it appears to be?

The audience was not in a forgiving mood earlier this week at a preview screening at the Guild 45th, where they giggled in all the wrong places and came close to booing the dark-and-stormy-night finale. The movie is too flamboyantly ridiculous to be a complete snore (it's easier to sit through than "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues") but it's surprisingly obvious and overwrought.

It starts out over-the-top, with a crazed woman smearing lipstick on her teeth, shoving a gun in her mouth, then throwing herself out the window of the high-rise office of her New York therapist (Bruce Willis). And it never slows down.

So traumatized by the suicide that he loses the ability to see red (a reaction to the sight of her spreading blood on the street below), Willis moves to Los Angeles to visit his best friend (Scott Bakula). He meets several of Bakula's patients, one of whom apparently stalks and murders Bakula, and eventually he gets involved in a perfunctory romance with a mystery lady (Jane March).

The rest is an indifferently acted whodunit that will surprise no one who has seen "Psycho," "Dressed to Kill," "Spellbound," "Homicidal" or dozens of other, similar thrillers. Mundane sex scenes, a standard L.A. car chase and Bakula's outrageously gory death scene (which plays like an unintentional parody) are all part of the predictable script by Billy Ray and Matthew Chapman. The latter's impressive list of clinkers includes "Heart of Midnight" and "Consenting Adults."

When Rush brought "Color of Night" to Seattle for a sneak preview in January, he was convinced that the script had much in common with his greatest success, "The Stunt Man," which was partly designed as a con job on the audience.

"What kind of story is it?" he asked. "Murder mystery, love story or group therapy story? Nothing is what it seems. You get an illusory view of life in the murder story, much more so in the love story." As so often happens, the filmmaker's idea of what he's accomplished is more interesting than what's on-screen.

That version ran about half an hour longer than the 118-minute film that goes into national release today. Whatever version you're watching, there's only so much that can be done with a script that supplies such gifted supporting players as Bakula, Ruben Blades, Brad Dourif, Kevin J. O'Connor, Lesley Ann Warren and Lance Henricksen with dialogue so desperate that it resorts to genitalia humor.

Is there a relationship between the number of such jokes and a movie's intelligence quotient? "I Love Trouble" lost its promise early when Julia Roberts made a witless reference to Nick Nolte's genitalia. "Color of Night" also dumbs down whenever its characters get sidetracked on the subject. This could be a corrective reaction to that golden age of mammary jokes, the 1950s/1960s, but the limit may have been reached.