Hear No Evil

By definition, no film starring hearing-impaired Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin can be considered routine. That aside, however, this would-be thriller in the tradition of WAIT UNTIL DARK is well-crafted but almost relentlessly formulaic and predictable. Matlin plays Jillian Shananhan, a personal physical trainer in Portland, Oregon, who becomes embroiled...read more

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By definition, no film starring hearing-impaired Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin can be considered routine. That aside, however, this would-be thriller in the tradition of WAIT UNTIL DARK is well-crafted but almost relentlessly formulaic and predictable.

Matlin plays Jillian Shananhan, a personal physical trainer in Portland, Oregon, who becomes embroiled in big trouble when one of her clients slips her a valuable stolen coin. The theft was engineered by corrupt, sadistic police Lieutenant Brock (Martin Sheen) to secure his retirement nest egg.

Instead of turning it over to Brock, however, the thief, an ex-con pressured into the job by Brock, gives the purloined coin to Mickey (John C. McGinley), an investigative reporter on Brock's case and also one of Jillian's clients. Pursued by Brock, Mickey stashes the coin in Jillian's vibrating

beeper without her knowledge, causing Brock to turn on her. Borrowing money and a car from restaurant manager Ben (D.B. Sweeney), Mickey tries to skip town only to have his car blow up as he's making his getaway.

Ben teams up with Jillian to get the goods on Brock, in this case incriminating videotapes Brock made of Mickey meeting with the thief. The tapes have no sound, but Jillian is able to read lips and decodes their conversation for the FBI. A subsequent meeting is set up between Ben and Brock,

ostensibly to negotiate turning over the coin; Jillian again reads lips (via remote video surveillance) and the Feds alert Brock. Ben and Jillian, who have become romantically involved, retire to a seaside bed and breakfast to celebrate. While Ben is out buying groceries, however, Jillian is

forced to face a masked man who had earlier invaded her apartment and now tries to kill her for the coin, which she has just discovered in her beeper. During the struggle, Jillian unmasks the goon, discovering him to be Mickey. After escaping from him, she turns the tables on him and pushes him

out a window to his death.

A veteran of social-issue telemovies--including THE BURNING BED--director Robert Greenwald conveys the strengths and limitations of Jillian's situation in a straightforward fashion without leaning on deafness as either an exploitative hook or a device to elicit easy sympathy. In having her help

the FBI, the scenario goes further by turning her perceived weakness into a strength. What wins points on television, however, often doesn't work as well in the movies.

Jillian is so wholesome, likable and self-sufficient that she almost seems to be too good to be true. Thrillers are about flaws, and Jillian doesn't have any, unlike Matlin's character in CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, memorable for her bitter refusal to make concessions to the hearing world, or even

the crusading assistant D.A. she played on her TV series "Reasonable Doubts" who was not afraid to be obnoxious to see justice done. Sweeney's Ben is even squeakier and cleaner.

While it's refreshing to see Matlin actively pursue projects in which she plays mainstream characters, it's possible to be too mainstream. Her past forays into offbeat projects like WALKER and THE LINGUINI INCIDENT bespeak an adventuresome spirit that could have benefited HEAR NO EVIL. Of the

remainder of the cast, Sheen is a sufficiently menacing heavy. McGinley would have been even more so if, with his scraggly beard, he didn't look so much like Letterman show loony Chris Elliott.

EVIL mostly plays like an old-fashioned B-movie programmer (albeit with some playfully wholesome sex between the leads), the kind of competent but undistinguished companion to the main feature they used to show in theaters in which a spunky heroine and hero thwarted a hissable bad guy. As

thrillers go, HEAR NO EVIL could have stood to be less spunky and more evil. (Violence, profanity, adult situations, nudity.)

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