'Hear No Evil' is no 'Wait Until Dark'


"Hear No Evil" is a thoroughly routine thriller of the sort that plays on television three nights a week. Why anybody spent $15 million or $20 million to do it up for the big screen is its only true mystery. It's disposable.

The premise is borrowed from a more famous and more primal thriller, "Wait Until Dark," in which a blind Audrey Hepburn was assailed by three homicidal thugs who wanted something she didn't even know she had. That's the set-up here, except the disability in this case is deafness, and the prime object of vulnerability is Marlee Matlin.

She's the personal trainer of a ragamuffin counterculture journalist played by the ever-sleazy John C. McGinley, who's trying to get a story indicating that a prominent police officer was involved in the theft of a rare antique coin. McGinley actually recovers the coin and, as the cops close in on him, plants it in Matlin's pager, before getting blown away. So the bad cops assail her, although McGinley's best pal, played by D. B. Sweeney, comes to her assistance.

The movie's best element is its uniformly fine performances. It's great to see Martin Sheen back in a big-budget film, this time as the menacing Lt. Philip Brock. He affects an avuncular heartiness and Marlon Brando's breathy little voice from "The Godfather." He's quite a good villain.

As for Matlin and Sweeney, they're just fine in roles that are so programmatic there isn't a lot that can be done. Yes, she's sweet, spunky, energetic and earnest, and when she's called upon to show terror as she so often must, she's quite good. Yes, he's likable (that's why he was hired), believable, earnest, smart and kind of heroic. But . . . TV-scale performers would have done just as well and you wouldn't have even noticed.

What you do notice is the continual stupidity of the production. People "find" things too easily, lodges are mysteriously empty at the height of tourist season to accommodate lengthy action sequences. The director, Robert Greenwald, much overuses the device of placing poor Matlin in the path of jeopardy which sweeps toward her, untracked and unnoticed because of her disability. He's continually shutting down the soundtrack so we can establish some experience in moving through a world without audio cues.

But that gets to another, more basic error. Frequently she gets in trouble not because she can't hear but because she isn't watching. Wouldn't you think a hearing impaired person moving through an ever more dangerous society would have become extremely alert visually? She'd always be checking her rear or flank security. But no. She doesn't here, because the script says not to. Duh.


'Hear No Evil'

Starring Marlee Matlin and D. B. Sweeney.

Directed by Robert Greenwald.

Released by 20th Century Fox.

Rated R.

... **

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