Remember Wait Until Dark, the 1967 thriller with Audrey Hepburn cast as a blind woman? Alan Arkin was the crazed thug who tormented Hepburn, moving her furniture around and hissing threats. Wait Until Dark was scary fun, yet it also generated an empathy for the disabled woman in her darkened plight.
Now comes Jennifer Eight, an ostensible thriller with Uma Thurman cast as a blind woman and Andy Garcia as the hard-case cop protecting her from a serial killer. It isn't nearly as good as Wait Until Dark. In fact, "good" isn't a word I'd use to describe Jennifer Eight at all.
This movie isn't scary -- or fun, either -- and the only characters I empathized with were the homicide victims. At least they got to die and leave. I had to stick around for two plodding hours.
And there's not much of a story to contemplate in that time. Jennifer Eight sports a Swiss-cheese plot line, one of those chock-full-of-holes movies during which you keep praying everything will make sense in the end, even though you know from the way the players behave it won't.
Garcia plays John Berlin, the stereotypically burned-out police officer. He's fled L.A. for a small, northern California town as Jennifer Eight opens, arriving just in time to investigate a severed hand found mixed with some leftover Chinese food at the area dump.
Berlin takes the chopped-hand suey to the station for analysis and meets with general antipathy from his new colleagues. For some reason all the provincial police despise Berlin. I tried hard to pretend that Garcia had a "Kick Me -- I'm a Method Actor" sign taped to his back, but it didn't help much.
Later, I tried hard to pretend Garcia's character had ESP as he pulled various clues from thin air and put together an elaborate theory making the cleft extremity a piece of the sixth victim, code named "Jennifer six." A missing student from the nearby school for the blind is Jennifer seven for the neighborhood serial killer, and her roommate, Berlin is convinced, will be Jennifer eight. Give the man a hand.
How our precognitive hero figures this out defies understanding. Much easier to accept -- because we've seen it a thousand times before -- is Berlin's affair with Helena Robertson (Thurman), the blind roommate, potential victim, and possible witness. I tried hard to pretend that Thurman had a "Screw Me -- I'm a Nubile Mannequin" sign taped to her back, but it didn't help much.
From there Berlin gets framed for the murder of his partner, a red-herring peeping Tom is thrown in, and John Malkovich pops up as an FBI agent with a sinus infection. Then there's -- what else? -- a car chase.
When the bad guy and his motivations are finally revealed, I laughed aloud at one of moviedom's dumbest excuses for serial killing. Good manners prevent me from telling you exactly what that is, but trust me, it's lame.
Garcia and Malkovich are both terrific actors, and they exude intensity every time the camera focuses on them. Unfortunately, Jennifer Eight's boring plot drowns out their performances. As for Thurman, she may want to rethink this acting thing and go back to the less-taxing job of modeling. While watching her work earlier this year in the flimsy and stupid Final Analysis, I concluded Thurman's eyes are absent of something even more crucial than sight.
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In all fairness, I will admit that Jennifer Eight has one surprising twist in the last five minutes. But by then, I could not have cared less.
Directed by Bruce Robinson; with Andy Garcia, Uma Thurman, Lance Henriksen, Kathy Baker, and John Malkovich.