Paranoid suspense, snappy dialog distinguish 'Disclosure'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

There are five, maybe six, people in the world who look good with their hair parted in the middle, and Demi Moore is not one of them.

Demi's unflattering 'do in "Disclosure" is the first sign that her character, Meredith, is nuts. Smart, beautiful and confident enough not to wear hosiery under her expensive suits, Meredith immediately unnerves employees at DigiCom Computers, where she is the new vice president. Especially computer designer Tom Snyder (Michael Douglas), who thought the V.P. job was his.

Tom should be nervous, because Meredith is interested in more than his mainframe. Her first day on the job, Meredith makes sexual advances to Tom and, when he half-heartedly rejects her, she accuses him of sexual harassment. "Disclosure" tracks Tom's efforts to clear his name and to triumph over the corporate skulduggery she uses to force him out of DigiCom.

Eventually, even Snyder's friends turn on him, which gives the movie an exciting man-against-the-system vibe (the setup resembles the beginning of "Wolf," before it goes awry) It isn't really about sexual harassment -- it's about office politics, and, as Tom uses anonymous messages and neato computer technology (including a virtual reality headset) to figure out Meredith's plot, "Disclosure" develops paranoid suspense along the lines of such top-notch thrillers as "The Parallax View" and "Three Days of the Condor."

Give credit for that to screenwriter Paul Attanasio ("Quiz Show"), whose hit-the-ground-running script steers us away from plot holes the size of IBM. Attanasio's gift is for witty, double-edged dialogue -- while you're laughing at the clever lines, you're also trying to figure out the agendas of the characters saying them. For instance, when Donald Sutherland (as DigiCom's president) says: "A lateral move to Austin? That's like a duck making a lateral move to a l'orange," it's funny, but it's also an early clue about Mr. Sutherland's motives.

Many of the movie's best lines go to two fine actresses, Roma Maffia as Snyder's bulldog lawyer (she played a reporter in "The Paper") and Caroline Goodall as his brilliant wife (she was Schindler's wife in "Schindler's List"). Their blunt performances take the edge off the inherently offensive woman-harassing-man theme (the filmmakers claim the gender switch makes it clear that harassment is more about power than sex, but it comes off as confirmation that all women with power are castrating harpies).

It would help if "Disclosure" weren't so one-sided. The movie is told entirely from Mr. Douglas' viewpoint and, except for a line that comes too late ("I'm only playing the game the way you boys set it up, and I'm being punished for it"), we know nothing about Meredith's background or her motivations. And Ms. Moore's shrill, Locklearian performance can't compensate for the vagueness of her Barbie-doll role.

Director Barry Levinson seems to have noticed that Demi Moore's character was a problem -- that's why he brought in Mr. Sutherland to do that Satan-in-a-suit voodoo that he do so well -- so Ms. Moore's drab acting doesn't sabotage the movie. But, amid all the virtual reality thrills and 3-D computer graphics, she remains defiantly 1-D.

"Disclosure"

Starring Michael Douglas, Demi Moore, Donald Sutherland, Dennis Miller

Directed by Barry Levinson

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated R

** 1/2

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