Next time you hear quality actresses complain that Hollywood has few good roles for women, think of "Sliver" and Sharon Stone -- and realize the essential truth of the grievance.
Ms. Stone ranks as a hot, hot box-office draw from her previous film, "Basic Instinct." Furthermore, "Sliver" has gotten sizzling prerelease buzz, including reports of frantic cutting of steamy scenes to barely garner its R-rating, as well as tales of an icy behind-the-scenes relationship between Ms. Stone and co-star William Baldwin.
But if Ms. Stone truly reigns as queen of the Hollywood actress hill, it proves merely that producers still want nothing more than women who take their clothes off, fall for the wrong guys and otherwise behave in offensively stereotypical ways.
Amazingly, one character even alludes to this cynically exploitative theme of the movie early on when he asks of Ms. Stone, "You don't like sex and violence?" Of course she does -- it's a living!
Based on the novel of the same title by Ira Levin ("Rosemary's Baby"), the movie progresses in easily categorized stages, thinly dressed up with the modern-day requirement that women have careers. (Ms. Stone plays a book editor, although we rarely see her working -- she just has an office.)
First comes any adolescent male's fantasy about the frustrated divorcee in the dwelling next door.
Ms. Stone's Carly Norris moves into a swanky apartment after ending a bad seven-year marriage. (The film's title comes from the nickname for her building, a towering Manhattan high-rise usually shot from the ground skyward -- yes, yes, we get the phallic symbolism.)
In the first of a several semi-nude scenes (obviously cut significantly for the censors), Carly writhes in a bathtub in what sex counselors call self-pleasuring.
Unbeknown to her, someone is watching on video. (The living color alternates with grainy black-and-white to enhance the illusion -- yet most viewers will wonder why the
movie's elaborate video eavesdropping systems would not have color monitors.)
Anyone who does not immediately think of the peephole scene from "Psycho" need only contemplate Mr. Baldwin's not-so-vague resemblance to Anthony Perkins. As neighbor Zeke Hawkins, he seems shy yet oddly intense as he meets Carly for the first time.
Soon enough, the film moves into the familiar vulnerable-single-woman stage.
Carly learns the previous occupant, a single woman who looked very much like her, apparently committed suicide by taking a balcony plunge. (Viewers already know different, however.)
She also meets another neighbor, Jack Landsford (Mr. Berenger), an apparent loutish thriller novelist on the make, and the mystery triangle closes into place.
Which one is the bad guy? Is it video voyeur Zeke, with whom she is having rampant sex in short order? (In truth, the sex scenes seem no more erotic than your average made-for-cable movie.) Or is it Jack, who may be more than he seems, as he warns her she's in danger?
In the third major plot convention, the jealous-lover theme, Carly eventually is in the position both to feel spurned and to get revenge -- but only after behaving like a hormone-struck adolescent herself.
As projected by its promotional slogan, "You like to watch, don't you," the movie plays with the undeniable don't-look-wanna-look human impulse toward voyeurism.
better than any movie or soap opera. It's real life," Zeke crows to Carly of his fixation.
But in making "Sliver" nobody seemed to ask, isn't real life really boring most of the time? And isn't it supremely arrogant to imagine anyone is really interested in watching what we do in the privacy of our own homes?
The movie never addresses such questions, even while showing some banal real-life scenes. Doing so might have earned the film its own hype as a "psychosexual mystery."
But worse, it never offers much of a mystery at all, for the identity of the killer arrives with no great surprise, and without a clue as to his motive.
"Sliver" Starring Sharon Stone, William Baldwin and Tom Berenger
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Released by Paramount