You're in the nuthouse, Mr. Jones. That's the gist of th drably titled "Mr. Jones," the picture that asks, "Have you hugged your manic-depressive today?"
This is another in an endless litany of Hollywood films that hopelessly sentimentalizes the cruel condition known as mental illness and holds that somehow the "touched" are more pure, more innocent, more special than the rest of us. Their agony, or so runs the line, is a higher form of being.
But give this one a tiny little sliver of credit. Instead of giving Mr. Jones -- Richard Gere -- a streak of genius to advance the cheap argument of insanity's preciousness, the movie clearly sees him as a misfit who has never made it and never will. His talents are small: the swaggering charm that can sometimes bunco dumb women into bed or desperate employers to hire him, a tiny gift for music, an ability to banter with everybody and a sense of the theatrical that just won't stop until it's become utterly irrational.
But the down side is the killer: He sinks so low he can hardly move. He's so consumed with self-loathing he's all but dysfunctional; he yearns for extinction, hears angry voices, wanders the streets in a rage hunting for his own death.
Is this the fattest part ever an actor got, or what? No wonder Gere executive-produced it as well as starred in it. He gets to paint all the colors of the rainbow, and one has to give him credit. There's not a shred of vanity or self-consciousness to the performance; he lets it all hang out, even to the point of permitting close-ups of a line of lower teeth that could have used a trip to the orthodontist back in the '50s.
The thankless role of the psychiatrist who aspires to treat but then falls in love with this madman goes to the Swedish actress Lena Olin, last seen abandoning Robert Redford in "Havana." She left Redford for a guy who who thinks he can fly? Go figure.
Olin is so consummately professional she hides the essential absurdity of the role. She even makes it seem credible that a woman of her professional attainments would throw everything away for a roll in the hay with Gere, who after all is just a petty tyrant of the untrammeled ego, not a Beethoven himself.
Some of the marginal characters are far more interesting: Delroy Lindo plays a construction worker who keeps Gere from killing himself and then allows himself to be seduced into caring about him. It's a vivid performance of a character of utter decency. He manages to give Good Behavior a good name, and, frankly, I wish the movie had been about him.
"Mr. Jones" loses its way in the late going as it leaves the world of a publicly funded psychiatric clinic and focuses more intensely on the Gere-Olin relationship. And, finally, it buys the line that the sick are better off sick, rather than being pharmaceutically nudged back into "normalcy," which it sees as a kind of social tyranny. It's a fine argument, as long as the patients look like Richard Gere and can tickle a little Beethoven out of the ivories.
Starring Richard Gere and Lena Olin
Directed by Mike Figgis
Released by TriStar