While ignored by audiences and written off by critics as another plodding paranoid procedural in imitation of FATAL ATTRACTION (1987), THE TEMP chillingly evokes a movie menace quite separate from obsessed psychos--studio executives who mutilate a picture in manic efforts to please mass
Peter Derns (Timothy Hutton) is a cookie-company executive recently treated for clinical paranoia. His shaky emotional state is hardly helped when the company is acquired by a giant food conglomerate, and his job is on the chopping block unless he performs spectacularly. Peter's boss Charlene
(Faye Dunaway), similarly at risk, orders a complete business report for the new owners. The deadline seems impossible--until the arrival of Peter's new temporary assistant. Kris Bolin (Lara Flynn Boyle) is efficient, brilliant, beautiful, Stanford-educated, and unflaggingly loyal. She whips out
an exemplary company report, solves major marketing problems, and happily lets Peter take the credit. Kris goes from temporary to permanent when Peter's regular assistant returns and severely mangles his hand in a paper shredder--a machine Kris had previously utilized. With the mysterious death of
a rival exec, Peter gets promoted and brings Kris with him.
Although Kris keeps a portrait of her husband and kids on her desk, she tries to seduce her boss. Peter spurns the aggressive advances, not wanting to jeopardize a reconciliation with his estranged wife. Suddenly things around the office go shockingly wrong, like a new cookie brand turned into a
PR nightmare by broken glass in the batter. Another suspicious boardroom fatality leave Kris a full-fledged executive herself, and apparently Peter's sworn enemy. He checks her resume and finds it full of fabrications, but is Peter really the target of a murderous career girl or backsliding into
paranoid dementia? After he succeeds in getting Kris fired, Peter discovers evidence that his former temp was innocent, her ruthlessness just a facade to hold a job for the sake of her ailing family. But someone in the office is a killer saboteur, and Peter goes to a clandestine rendezvous at the
bakery plant to find out who. Ambushed, the disoriented Peter sees Charlene plunge to her death after struggling with Kris on the catwalk. Apparently Charlene was the ambitious schemer all along, Peter high on her hit list. Peter rehires his rescuer Kris--then calls the police when Charlene's
dying words belatedly clue him in: Kris has no husband or kids.
There's an interval when THE TEMP threatens to be very interesting and truly subvert the cliches of the "so-and-so from hell" genre spawned by FATAL ATTRACTION's box-office success. What if the true villain were Peter, the paranoid yuppie boss who imagines a conspiracy and throws a fine worker
out, ruining her career? What if, by extension, American business rises and falls out of fear and interoffice hatreds, bred of corporate backstabbing and constant jockeying for postition? Since THE TEMP unfolds entirely from Peter's distorted point of view, we see nothing he doesn't see, know
nothing he doesn't know--and we know that of all the characters only Kris has brains and talent to match her aspirations. Had THE TEMP ended just several minutes earlier, before that ludicrous conclusion, it might have made a nice neo-Hitchcockian thriller with a potent message and a neat "from
hell" spin: never trust your narrator.
But of all the American businesses ruled by fear, few show it better than Hollywood. Whatever the intent of writer Kevin Falls's script, it went through the meat grinder in a fevered bid to appeal to the mentalities of preview audiences. Director Tom Holland (who can't seem to resist gratuitous
gore) reportedly shot an original finale with Faye Dunaway carried on a conveyor-belt through the cookie works, clawing at Timothy Hutton's pantleg as her dough-covered body is cut to pieces. Lara Flynn Boyle was last seen sliding into an oven. That proved too gruesome, and several alternate
endings were shot. "By the time it was over," according to the LA Times, "several writers had devised alternate climaxes. In some, Boyle's character (Kris) was the killer. In others, Faye Dunaway's character (Charlene) was the killer. Sometimes Peter and Kris were fighting on the catwalks. Or,
Peter and Charlene were fighting on the catwalks." Outgoing Paramount CEO Brandon Tartikoff had two alternate ideas for endings; incoming producer Sherry Lansing sought out screenwriter Nicholas Meyer for an alternative to the alternatives. Falls claimed he came up with "six to ten" resolutions of
his own, and told the Times that the initial, poorly received, campy bloodbath was largely his doing. Undecided over how heroic Peter should be, or even what the movie was all about, Paramount was still reshooting THE TEMP four weeks before the feature's nationwide January opening.
All this fuss over a cheesy programmer that grossed a paltry $5 million and disappeared off the screens faster than, well, a temp, spotights mainstream moviemaking at its most neurotic, and perhaps presents the film's true message: too many cooks spoil the cookies, as Paramount's own corporate
upheavals in many ways mirrored the office satire taking place on celluloid. It may be germane that the highly profitable FATAL ATTRACTION also came from Paramount, and the original release version had its muted, ironic ending switched for a radically different, violent finish. (Adult situations,profanity, violence.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: R
- Review: While ignored by audiences and written off by critics as another plodding paranoid procedural in imitation of FATAL ATTRACTION (1987), THE TEMP chillingly evokes a movie menace quite separate from obsessed psychos--studio executives who mutilate a picture… (more)