From the Archive: Cliffhanger and Sliver

Ah, yes, the home video segment. How very early nineties. Wasn’t that a time? Within a few months, this was sort of a filler segment on the show as we were invariably writing about films we’d already covered previously, and we didn’t necessarily have something new and riveting to add. The main servicing to previous reviews was a consideration of how something might play better or worse on the television screen, then much smaller and squarer, of course. Usually, we each covered one movie new to video. I’m not sure why I doubled up here. We must have had a light week with theatrical new releases. These are a couple of pretty terrible movies I wrote about.

Here’s the dilemma…you’re a high-priced Hollywood director with a big budget, big star summer blockbuster wanna-be on your hands. The problem is the film’s screenplay. Specifically, it’s absolutely awful. What do you do? Well, many directors try to cover up a weak script by filling the film with stunning scenery or stylist visuals. That may work when the film is being projected onto the big screen of a movie theater, but when the time comes for the inevitable home video release, the striking images are going to be lost on the television screen and the lame dialogue and foolish storytelling are going to come glaringly to the surface. For example, the movie “Cliffhanger” had moments of sheer, awe-inspiring majesty as the camera of director Renny Harlin lingered on the mountaintop settings of the action flick. With those vistas reduced for home video, they should be no more impressive than the scenery in the average 4×4 truck commercial. Instead, the laughable plot is going to be unavoidable.

John Lithgow plays a master criminal whose implausible scheme to steal some suitcases crammed with cash gets botched, resulting in the cases being lost amongst the snowy peaks. Comeback kid Sylvester Stallone is a troubled mountain ranger who takes on Lithgow. There are several shootouts, explosions, and fistfights as the film progresses, but none of them are particularly exciting or invigorating. They do however feature terrible dialogue and equally bad acting. Stallone is blandly fine, but Michael Rooker and “Northern Exposure”‘s Janine Turner flounder in supporting roles, and Lithgow can point to “Cliffhanger,” last year’s “Raising Cain,” and the recent cable movie “The Wrong Man” as indisputable proof that the man who was once a master of subtle, intelligent performances now needs to join Overactors Anonymous.

No one really approaches overacting in the new video release “Sliver.” In fact, it’s difficult to find any level of emotion at all in this sparkless sexual thriller. The film is set in a New York skyscraper apartment building that includes a secret surveillance system that is used to spy on residents’ sordid lives for voyeuristic kicks. Despite the hype over the film’s flirting with the adults-only NC-17 rating, there is a distinct lack of sexiness as star Sharon Stone seems to be merely going through the motions. There’s little of the bold, provocative aggressiveness that bolstered her performance in the otherwise slimy “Basic Instinct.”

Speaking of “Instinct,” the writer who committed the sin of creating that script is behind this one as well, which is actually an adaptation of an Ira Levin bestseller. Even though the ending was drastically changed, altering the identity of the killer in the film’s ho-hun murder mystery, all of the heavy-handed foreshadowing injected by screenwriter Joe Eszterhas into the film remains in place, making the entire opening four-fifths of the film a drawn out, moronic red herring. “Patriot Games” director Phillip Noyce seemed a perfect choice for this film, as his best work in past thrillers has revolved around slow, creeping movements through darkened homes rather than big action sequences, and there are faint indications that he had a sense of how to make the probing security cameras into a truly unsettling presence. But ultimately, the only perfect choice for this film would have been scrapping the project altogether.

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