The Thrill Is Gone

If men such as Guy Baran didn't exist, neither would books about smart women and foolish choices. Strong, handsome, intelligent, and confident, Guy attracts a lot of interest from members of the opposite sex who do not realize that his impeccable faaade masks a cruel, arrogant, manipulative liar. Mia and Nicole -- Guy's wife and mistress, respectively -- are smart women (they teach at St. Anselm School for Boys, where Guy reigns as headmaster) who fell for Guy's act but now despise the man. Together they conspire to murder him by drugging and drowning him. Their scheme appears to go smoothly until Guy's body -- which they have tossed into St. Anselm's murky, leaf-covered swimming pool, making it appear as if he has drowned accidentally -- disappears. Photos turn up depicting the two women transporting the corpse. Someone knows. But who? Does that person intend to blackmail the women? And what happened to the body?

Diabolique, a moody remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1954 Hitchcockian French chiller Les Diaboliques, retains the nifty plot twists and turns of the original. Despite a weak performance from Isabelle Adjani, the French siren who plays Mia, and an on-and-off turn by Sharon Stone as Nicole, director Jeremiah Chechik (Benny and Joon) and screenplay adapter Don Roos (Single White Female) succeed in building suspense through the film's opening acts. You think you know where the movie's headed until the body disappears, and suddenly you're hooked. But more than any other movie genre, thrillers demand clever, satisfying endings. A bad resolution renders all that came before it a waste of time. And to be blunt, Chechik and Roos blow the ending to Diabolique. Their sloppy conclusion raises as many questions as it answers; the big payoff feels more like a big rip-off.

At least the participants have some fun on their way to the fizzled finale. Chechik's direction imbues the film with a palpably creepy atmosphere. The movie feels scary. Chazz Palminteri's Guy is suitably arrogant, cruel, and charismatic. The character is essentially a refined variation on the scumbag Palminteri played in the vile Jade. Stone's scheming, larger-than-life Nicole struts around in pumps, iridescent red pedal pushers, and a tight leopard-print Angora; although the actress has difficulty conveying fear, confusion, and vulnerability, she still does the sexy/bitchy thing just fine, thank you.

But too many loose threads and frayed edges unravel in Diabolique's final act. This is one of those movies in which the supposedly ingenious evildoer pulls off an elaborate crime but leaves crucial pieces of evidence (a cuff link, a length of hose, a pair of glasses) lying around. The film suggests -- but never sufficiently develops -- a strong sexual attraction between the femmes fatales that may substantially explain their behavior. Nicole clearly has the hots for Mia, but how does Mia feel about Nicole? And what about the huge wad of cash Nicole claims Guy embezzled from the school? Did Guy really steal it? What's the real story on this cop, Shirley (nicely underplayed by Kathy Bates, who makes the most of her character's time on-screen despite her total irrelevance to the film's plot), who enters the mystery midway through after a chance encounter with Mia?

Don't expect answers from Diabolique. This film is far more concerned with the setup than with the delivery. Too bad. The movie has style. But a stylish thriller with a lame ending is still a waste of time.

 
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