Friday September 13, 1996
"Suckers" is the last word anyone says in "The Rich Man's Wife." It's a fitting epitaph for this muddled film as well as an apt description of anyone misguided enough to spend money to see it.
Written and directed by Amy Holden Jones, last glimpsed concocting the "Indecent Proposal" scenario that had Demi Moore selling herself to Robert Redford for a million dollars, "The Rich Man's Wife" makes fools of several classes of viewers.
Those who think having a woman in charge of a film makes a difference in how that sex is treated on screen will be in for a shock. Thriller fans who expect a plot to play fair will also be angry. Only those who enjoy seeing Halle Berry in numerous chic designer outfits will come away satisfied.
With all those clothes and a title that is strictly 1940s tear-jerker, "The Rich Man's Wife" sounds as if it's a traditional piece of gilded escapism, one of those luxury-loves-misery epics where many tears about the perfidy of men are shed in the mansions of the wealthy.
Josie Potenza (Berry) certainly has reason enough to cry. As an impoverished 17-year-old convenience store clerk she married customer Tony Potenza (Christopher McDonald) when he dramatically materialized in front of her as "a god in a thousand-dollar suit."
Now it is seven years later and Potenza has turned into a pot-belied, alcoholic, philandering, bad-tempered television executive with a large bank account and a loud voice. Though she's taken sleek restaurateur Jake Golden (Clive Owen) as a lover, Josie still wants her marriage to work. How can you give up on a guy who, at least when he's sober, says things like: "There's nothing I wouldn't do for you, baby."
But then, in a manner too wearying to relate, Josie meets the ominous Cole Wilson (Peter Greene). Quicker than you can scream, "Stay away," she's having dinner with Wilson and letting her guard down long enough to whisper that there are moments when she wishes Tony were no longer among the living.
Anyone who remembers, as Holden Jones clearly does, Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" knows what's going to happen next. Suddenly Tony is sleeping with the fishes and an increasingly psychotic Cole Wilson is intruding on Josie's life in a major way.
It's at this point that "The Rich Man's Wife" reveals that its glossy setting is only a masquerade. This is no traditional weepy, it's a deranged stalker movie of the "Copycat" and "Cape Fear" variety where putting a woman in continual jeopardy is considered to be the height of civilized entertainment.
Hoping to avoid that criticism, "Rich Man" makes sure that its most violent scene is between men, a choice that simply adds another repulsive interlude to an already nasty film. It also operates on the dubious logic that since its female characters come out on top in the film's finale, it's OK to have them in continual fear for their lives the rest of the way. If this is gender progress, we've still got a long way to go.
And speaking of that ending, "The Rich Man's Wife" throws in an incomprehensible final twist that is so insultingly illogical that it's guaranteed to make anyone who's lasted that long feel cheated. The capable people who worked on this film deserve better. Not to mention the audience.
The Rich Man's Wife, 1996. R, for strong violence and language. A Roger Birnbaum production, in association with Caravan Pictures, released by Hollywood Pictures. Director Amy Holden Jones. Producers Roger Birnbaum, Julie Bergman Sender. Executive producer Jennifer Ogden. Screenplay Amy Holden Jones. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Editor Wendy Greene Bricmont. Costumes Colleen Kelsall. Music John Frizzell. Production design Jeannine Oppewall. Art director William Arnold. Set decorator Cindy Carr. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Halle Berry as Josie Potenza. Christopher McDonald as Tony Potenza. Clive Owen as Jake Golden. Peter Greene as Cole Wilson. Charles Hallahan as Dan Fredericks. Frankie Faison as Ron Lewis. Clea Lewis as Nora Golden.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun