By Nick Schager
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After a brush with death, a successful businessman plunges into a coma. The doctors aren't sure if he'll make it; his wife frets anxiously and keeps a bedside vigil. But the human spirit is stronger than medicine, and slowly, painfully, he returns to life. There's only one problem: He cannot remember who he is, and from all indications, he doesn't particularly like the man he once was.
Regarding Henry, right? Wrong. Wolfgang Petersen's Shattered begins as a virtual carbon copy of the Harrison Ford weep-o-rama - differing only in the substitution of a New Year's Eve car accident for the convenience store shooting - but employs the "Look Ma, No Memory" device for more aggressive ends.
The amnesiac in question is Dan Merrick (Tom Berenger), a filthy-rich San Francisco architect. After he works through the first steps of his long recovery, Dan starts to putter about in the life he can't remember, and the usual complications arise. Did he have an affair with his secretary? How does he feel about his partner Jeb (Corbin Bernsen), or Jeb's wife Jenny (JoAnne Whalley-Kilmer)? How does he feel about himself?
But wait! There's more. As a result of an outstanding invoice, Dan discovers that just before his accident, he hired a private investigator to look into some misbehavior, illicit liaison division, on the part of his wife Judith (Greta Scacchi). At first he doesn't want to deal with it, figures that what's done is done, and the Judith who nursed him back to health is the Judith he will love. But trickles of his memory begin to seep through, and what he remembers - sex on the beach, the report of a pistol, a mirror in shards - both intrigues and terrifies him. And no one will tell him the full truth. Not Jeb. Not Jenny. And not Judith.
Disoriented and frightened, Dan tracks down the private investigator, Gus Klein (Bob Hoskins), and the two of them become a team of sorts, delving into Dan's old life. As the film builds, and builds, it weaves the traditional web of deceit, and leads to what Petersen obviously believes is a stunning series of reversals and uncovered crimes.
The only important crime, though, is the assault committed on the audience. The plot's not the problem, actually - though the Final Shocking Revelation is telegraphed at least 45 minutes ahead of time, films have mustered and sustained suspense with far worse. But everything else is atrocious. Sparing the always passable Hoskins, who looks as though he has been flown in from another, less ponderous movie, and Bernsen, who deftly slips into the same corporate-scum persona that defines all his roles, no one in Shattered should be sleeping well at night. Berenger seems to think the most effective way to portray psychological trauma is as a giant migraine, with an unseemly amount of head clutching and repeated whispers of "My God." And Scacchi spends so much time trying to look equivocal and enigmatic that she confuses even herself.
Matters aren't helped any by Petersen's direction. Granted, Dan's trauma must have been extreme, but once the moment of his head hitting the windshield has been re-created a dozen times, the message is clear. Reaction shots are held long enough for audience members to leave the theater (which they'll want to do at times), get a good night's sleep, raise a family, collect their pensions, die, be resurrected in some distant country, take a trip to the United States, drop by the theater, and return to their seats. And we'll have to take it on faith that the Merricks live in San Francisco, because with the exception of a few exteriors and one California forest that serves as the scene for an overlong and overdumb car chase, Shattered makes almost no use of the Bay Area.
You'll probably see some raves on this film, either from critics who appreciated the scary atmospherics or from close friends of the Petersen family. But it's hard to give the go-ahead to any project that pales in comparison with Seventies television dramas. "You know what I like about amnesia?" Dan asks Judith. "After seven years of marriage, I get to fall in love all over again." You know what I like about amnesia? I can deny I ever sat through Shattered.
Written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen; based on the novel by Richard Neely; with Tom Berenger, Greta Scacchi, Bob Hoskins, JoAnne Whalley-Kilmer, Corbin Bernsen, Scott Getlin, and Kelleye Nakahara.
Now playing at major theaters in Dade and Broward counties.
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