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'Strangers' ending strikes one dumb


For for the longest time, I'm wondering: "Why didn't the studio screen this?"

The movie is "Never Talk to Strangers," with Rebecca De Mornay as a psychologist being stalked by a mysterious antagonist just as she's started an affair with a sexy stranger -- Antonio Banderas flashing his hot, dark eyes like melting chocolate cherries.

Is he or isn't he? That's only one of the questions. Other suspects slide through the fog of her anxiety: Maybe it's nice-guy Dennis Miller, a thwarted lover who's become a "friend." Maybe it's her father (Len Cairou), who blows in and out of her life powered by blasts of alienation, oddly distant yet familiar. Maybe it's Benny, a former fiance who dumped her and !c mysteriously disappeared.

De Mornay, who is as kewpie-doll perfect now as she was in "Risky Business" all those years ago, has learned to act. So much the better for "Never Talk to Strangers," where her beauty never prevents you from buying her as a forensic psychologist who examines psycho-wannabes who claim craziness for an alibi, and the movie conjures up one such, in a riveting, creepy performance by the great Harry Dean Stanton.

So for at least an hour, I'm thinking: Hey, this thing is pretty good. De Mornay's perfect, Miller's funny, Banderas is mysterious and sexy, the suspense is getting tighter and tighter, especially when De Mornay's cat turns up dead and someone smears excrement on her walls and Banderas keeps looking at (( her with eyes like pools of licorice Jell-O and his dancer's body language is drawing her ever onward. It is, for example, much better than "Jade."

L Then comes the ending, and I knew why they didn't screen it.

It's difficult to recall a movie that self-destructs with quite the mad abandon of "Never Talk to Strangers." Talk about hitting the wall! It gets so silly so fast it seems trying for some kind of record. The ethics of the game preclude me from explaining more clearly what happens, but I can only suggest you concoct the most absurd interpretation to the data possible, and you will be pleased to discover that the filmmakers have trumped you in their sense of absurdity.

I noted that the director was Peter Hall, by the way. It couldn't be the great Peter Hall of British theater fame, now could it, the director of "Royal Hunt of the Sun," the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Director of the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain? Naw, couldn't be. Had to be some other Peter Hall, director of "Truck Stop Babes" and ".357 Mamas."

Er, no. Disappointed again. It was the Peter Hall. He's had better projects.

'Never Talk to Strangers'

Starring Rebecca De Mornay and Antonio Banderas

Directed by Peter Hall

Released by Tri-Star

Rated R (nudity, violence, sex)

... **

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