3½ stars (out of four)
Horror movies don't always have to be about homicidal corpses or monsters. "Edmond," a new movie from horror specialist Stuart Gordon ("Re-Animator"), based on a play by David Mamet, takes place in modern L.A. It's about a middle-aged white executive--the title character, played by William H. Macy--who wanders one night into a hell of crime and punishment in search of his manhood, love and some cheap oral sex. He finds them all, though not in the ways he expected.
Mamet is a writer who turns off some audiences, and almost everything that might bother them is in "Edmond": foul language, raging machismo, violence and seemingly bigoted tirades. But almost everything audiences like about him is there too: candor, suspense, ideas, crackling slang, vivid characters.
When we first see Macy's Edmond Burke, fate already has him in a vise. After he leaves his humdrum office, he talks to a tarot card reader who sees catastrophe ahead: "You are not where you belong." Soon, he begins trying to escape his life, telling his wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) he's leaving and then heading for a bar where a gabby, suave basketball fan (Joe Mantegna) makes racist cracks and sends Edmond off to a local bar/sex club.
There something screwy emerges about Edmond's sense of money and potential danger. When a pretty, amiable B-girl (Denise Richards) tells him her fee and asks him to buy an exorbitantly priced drink, he becomes incensed. Soon he's gotten himself tossed out, the start of a long round of explosive confrontations with hookers, hotel clerks, three-card monte grifters, pawnshop guys and pimps, in which Edmond keeps heatedly complaining about the cost ("It's too much!"), trying to apply bourgeois standards to a corrupt underworld and sinking deeper into nightmare. "Edmond's" last scene is one of the most ferociously appropriate paybacks Mamet has ever devised.
Gordon, who has directed Mamet before (the world stage premiere here of "Sexual Perversity in Chicago"), has a deeper, more darkly comic and more humane temperament than he usually shows in his low-budget horror movies. It's not surprising that he has finally made a movie such as this or his other "offbeat" film, "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit." These are the kind of movies he should be making.
"Edmond" is an actor's showcase too. In a top-notch star-heavy cast, Macy is perfect as the bent Everyman, and Mantegna as his first tempter. Julia Stiles is scarily vulnerable as Edmond's last pickup, Glenna. Bokeem Woodbine radiates ambivalent menace as a prisoner, and Lionel Mark Smith is wonderfully sleazy as a pimp.
"Edmond" is the most effective Mamet play adaptation I've seen since James Foley's blistering 1992 "Glengarry Glen Ross." In the films Mamet directs, including "Oleanna" (with Macy), the overly stylized line readings tend to dry the movies out; other directors, using his material, tend to be too reverent. Here, Gordon plays the stylized dialogue against a horror-suspense context, a nightmare with hints of both Georg Buechner's "Woyzeck" and Brian De Palma's "Body Double." As always, Mamet's immaculate stagecraft reshapes real life, pushing it to extremes, twisting it up and subverting it. The results are annihilating.
Opens Friday for a two-week run at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. Macy will appear at the 8 p.m Friday and 8:15 p.m. Saturday screenings. MPAA rating: R (for violence, strong language and sexual content including nudity and dialogue).