A tricky thriller, MALICE begins well but betrays its coolly calculating premise and degenerates into a silly horror story.
Nice guy Andy Safian (Bill Pullman), Dean of Students at a small East Coast girl's college, knows he's lucked out in life's lottery. Andy has problems: restoring his Victorian house is straining his budget to breaking point and a serial rapist/murderer is terrorizing the picture postcard campus.
But he's married to the most perfect woman in the world: Tracy (Nicole Kidman) is beautiful, sexy, smart, loving and domestic. Even the intrusion of sleek, arrogant, Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin) can't spoil things.
Another man might be humiliated to realize he attended high school with the handsome, successful, egotistical Hill, who neither recognizes Andy nor bothers to remember his name after they've become re-acquainted. But upon hearing that Hill is looking for somewhere to live, Andy invites him to
rent the third floor of his house, over Tracy's protests. Hill is a predictably bad tenant, given to late night orgies and loud music. Before Andy can muster the spine to ask him to leave, Tracy, who has been suffering abdominal cramps, becomes critically ill. Hill operates, and presents Andy with
two pieces of information: Tracy is pregnant, and her ovaries are necrotic. Concerned above all with saving Tracy's life, Andy okays surgery to remove them. But when Tracy recovers, not only is she not grateful, she's devastated by the knowledge that she was, but is no longer, pregnant, and that
she'll never have children. She sues Hill for millions and leaves Andy, blaming both men for ruining her life.
Terrible though all this is, it's nothing compared with the web of lies and calculated deception Andy uncovers after he stumbles across a single, puzzling fact that precipitates the unravelling of what's left of his world. During the investigation of the campus murders (the killer, whom Andy is
instrumental in catching, turns out to be the janitor), Andy was forced to give a sperm sample, which cleared him as a suspect. Months later, the tough-talking detective in charge (Bebe Neuwirth) tells Andy that it also showed he was sterile. By whom, then, was Tracy pregnant? Andy tracks down
Tracy's supposedly dead mother (Anne Bancroft), who reveals that Tracy is an accomplished con woman, then sets out to find the mysterious doctor she was visiting before the incident.
When he does, another surprise awaits: the doctor is Hill, and Hill is Tracy's lover. Andy realizes they cooked up the plot together, and plan to disappear as soon as Tracy is awarded her settlement. The medical emergency was an elaborate fraud, and Andy just a pawn. Enraged, he turns the
tables, first pitting them against one another (when the heat is turned up, Tracy kills Hill), then tricking Tracy into revealing herself. She is arrested, and Andy is left to contemplate the ruins of his life.
MALICE revolves around an insurance scam of such breathtaking, gut-twisting (quite literally) audacity that it's almost easier to imagine pulling it off for real than making it work on film. Concocted by two contemporary enthusiasts of the thrillers with twists--Scott Frank (DEAD AGAIN) and Adam
Sorkin (A FEW GOOD MEN)--MALICE is, for all its gloss, a mess: simultaneously too complicated and insufficiently complex.
The plot is too convoluted. One almost wants to admire the nerve of a film that gives over a good 20 minutes of screen time to a subplot involving a maniacal rapist/murderer/hair fetishist for no other reason than to reveal Andy's sterility. After the psycho pervert business is summarilly
cleared up, one waits in vain for the third act re-introduction of this first act smoking gun. But it never comes. Instead, MALICE opts for a stalk-and-slash finale that makes nonsense of everything that's come before.
The characters, by contrast, are too shallow to navigate the plot's turbulent waters; they're tossed around like so many scraps of paper. The key to MALICE is that there's more to Tracy than meets the eye, and if the same were true of Kidman, it might be a more successful thriller. Barbara
Stanwyck would have made something of Tracy; perhaps Ellen Barkin (the star of director Harold Becker's earlier thriller, SEA OF LOVE), with her sly smile and steely sex appeal, could have given her life beyond the demands of plot. But Kidman is the sum of her pinched mouth and pre-Raphaelite
hair, and when viewers are asked to believe her part in the diabolical deception perpetrated against poor Andy, suspension of disbelief is permanently suspended. Andy is a dumb oaf, Dr. Hill a haughty creep; Pullman and Baldwin play their single notes well, but they don't add up to much. In the
end, MALICE fails to live up to its deliciously simple and suggestive title. (Violence, profanity, nudity, sexual situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1993
- Rating: R
- Review: A tricky thriller, MALICE begins well but betrays its coolly calculating premise and degenerates into a silly horror story. Nice guy Andy Safian (Bill Pullman), Dean of Students at a small East Coast girl's college, knows he's lucked out in life's lotte… (more)