Eyewitness (1981) Poster


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Two apparently independent plots.
dbdumonteil10 September 2003
There are few films which boast such a first-rate cast:Christopher Plummer,Morgan Freeman ,Sigourney Weaver,James Woods ..And like in Hitchcock's "family plot" (1975),there are two apparently independent plots:on one hand,a shady business man's murder and a Vietnam veteran who becomes a janitor in the same building;on the other hand, a network which helps the Jews immigrate into the US.A fine thread connects the two stories:Weaver is the daughter of Jews who belong to this network and the fiancée (?) of one of them;and she's also a TV reporter who covers the affair I mention above;and she is also the janitor's idol.and...

When,after after almost one hour,the two plots become one,they do not hang well together(in Hitchcock's "family plot" ,the connection was very smart:a simple movement of the camera followed Karen Black ).And in spite of two spectacular scenes ,the rabid dog,and the horses which give the movie a fantastic touch,the story is at once implausible and predictable .Also handicapped by pointless minor characters such as Woods' sister and Hurt's father.This film does not rank among Peter Yates 'best.
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A Buried, Character-Driven, Well-Cast Gem
jzappa15 March 2009
This 1981 murder thriller, from a big studio with big stars of the time, with corny vintage taglines and advertisements, is good entertainment squarely because it pays more application to its people than its story. It's indubitably set in America, from the innards of a Manhattan boiler room to the newsroom of a TV station, even though it's about such real, involved, curious, and occasionally hilarious people that it have got to at the least be transatlantic.

This underrated neo-noir stars William Hurt as a janitor who happens upon proof that could lead to the conclusion of a murder investigation. But he doesn't go to the police with it because he's too reticent, too reflective, too doubtful of what he's seen and, mainly, he's too much in love from a distance with Sigourney Weaver's TV news reporter. Perhaps he can gain her regard by giving her the inside story.

There are other dilemmas. Sigourney Weaver's fiancée is an Israeli agent played by Christopher Plummer, who is embroiled in cloak-and-dagger overseas interventions to smuggle Jews out of the Soviet Union. His plan concerns secret fees to a corrupt Vietnamese agent who has now moved to Manhattan. The other characters include James Woods, as Hurt's impetuous and short-fused best friend and recently fired colleague, and Steven Hill and Morgan Freeman as a couple of stoic cops who ponderously trace leads in the case. One of their memorably stoic quips: "When Aldo was a little boy, he must have wanted to be a suspect when he grew up."

The advancement and resolution of the murder mystery are handled rather conventionally by director Peter Yates, who made some great thrillers like The Hot Rock and Bullitt, and his screenwriter, Steve Tesich. A climactic showdown in a midtown riding stable and its barely existent denouement has a touch of every thriller from the 1980s. But what makes this movie so enjoyable is the way Yates and Tesich and their characters play against our assumptions. It shows that there really is no excuse for a lack of cutting edge or creative spirit in genre films, because this one achieves a very poised harmony of the familiar and the original, predictability and unpredictability. Genres rely upon the audience's savvy and familiarity, on the seasoning they've stengthened from seeing movies and the frame of comparable encounters from they can evoke.

Weaver is not only a TV newswoman, but also a determined pianist on the side and the dejected daughter of her oppressive parents. Hurt is not only a janitor but also an emotional introvert, an animal lover who can rhapsodize his way into Weaver's heart. Woods is not only an unhinged janitor but also the forceful advocate of a marriage between his sister and Hurt. Hurt and the sister continue the engagement because they are both too nice to tell the other one they're not in love. And as a mystery thriller, it gives us multiple conceivable suspects and resolutions to the murder it sets up as a way of misleading us until the proper time to reveal the killer.

I've seen so many thrillers that, honestly, I don't always care that much how they resolve lest they're particularly well-crafted. What I like about this buried gem is that, where it has regard for how it turns out, it has even more regard for the essence of its scenes. There's not a scene in this movie that just constitutes plot information. Every scene defines characters. And they're developed in such uncommon integrity to the way people do act that we get all the more consumed in the mystery, merely considering that we comparatively trust it could actually be real. Actually, I'm going to buckle and say that there is one tagline for this movie that is pretty good: "You're never more vulnerable than when you've seen too much."
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Not Much To See.
AaronCapenBanner27 September 2013
William Hurt plays a Manhattan Janitor named Daryl Deaver, who is obsessed with a local newswoman named Tony Sokolow(played by Sigourney Weaver). When a Vietnamese man with a shady past is murdered in Daryl's building, he takes full advantage of meeting his crush by insinuating that he knows more about the murder than he does. Tony goes along with him, flattered but unsure. When the true killers get wind of Daryl's story, they plan on eliminating him, and before they know it, their really is a conspiracy to report...

Good acting by its fine cast(which includes James Woods, Morgan Freeman, and Christopher Plummer) cannot save this contrived and unconvincing mystery, which just doesn't amount to much.
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An unusual thriller
Paul-25023 May 1999
William Hurt stars as the brooding janitor in this sub-Hitchcockian thriller directed by Peter Yates (Bullitt). No-one in the film is quite what they seem, and Hurt plays the role of ambivalent hero/anti hero intelligently. Sigourney Weaver shows what a fine actress she really is whilst Christopher Plummer adds gravitas to the proceedings. Like Benton's Still Of The Night the film is well-crafted and often intriguing. Definitely well worth watching.
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Portrait of a top-shelf cast in a lifeless thriller
Mr-Fusion4 August 2017
"Eyewitness" has one really good scene. NYPD detective Morgan Freeman plops down next to his partner and says, "Julie and I are giving up. We're going to try adoption". It's a throwaway line and the scene has absolutely no bearing on the plot, but it's the only genuine character moment in the film.

This is pretty scattered as plotting goes and nothing works in terms of creating tension or characters (an injustice to its array of talent) but calling it boring is too simple. It's shocking how the opening credits give way to something that just . . . happens, then plods along for a while and finishes. All to a non-existent score. It's a thriller with no suspense, personality or feeling. In that respect, it's something unlike anything I've ever seen.

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great actors in flawed thriller
SnoopyStyle4 December 2016
Vietnam war hero and Manhattan janitor Daryll Deever (William Hurt) is obsessed with hard-nosed TV reporter Tony Sokolow (Sigourney Weaver). A shady Vietnamese businessman is murdered in his office building. He was complaining about Daryll's racist fellow vet coworker Aldo (James Woods). Aldo has an alibi in Daryll's girlfriend and Aldo's sister Linda (Pamela Reed). It's a lie and he's come into a lot of money. Tony investigates the story and concentrates on Daryll who secretly found the body and pretends to know something to stay close to her. Her Jewish activist boyfriend Joseph (Christopher Plummer) is hiding a secret. Police detectives Lt. Jacobs (Steven Hill) and Lt. Black (Morgan Freeman) are investigating. Mysterious Vietnamese men are watching.

There are some great actors in this. I checked this out despite never heard of it. It has lots of interesting bits. This would work better with a creepier Hurt. He's very capable and his obsession starts that way. I think Linda gets into the way and she's not a necessary character. There are little disjointed and oddly superfluous moments like his dog attacking. Then the movie takes a really outlandish turn. It's too bad because this could have been a solid simple thriller. The turn ties together two parts of the story that really has no connection to each other. It becomes flat at that point.
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The end justifies the means....right?
helpless_dancer4 November 2001
Slightly offbeat murder yarn dealing with a pair of misfits who become involved in a murder which had nothing to do with either of them. This causes one of them to be targeted by an assassin who is involved in a love triangle between a woman and his intended victim. Strange film with a taut ending.
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slow but effective
blanche-215 January 2001
This movie is great fun to see William Hurt, James Woods and Sigourney Weaver at the beginnings of their careers and when they were experiencing a good deal of success. The rest of the cast is top-notch. The story is very interesting and effective, though I found the film a bit uneven and slow.
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Uneven roller-coaster ride
herbqedi19 April 2003
Parts are slow, and parts are non-sequitirs that don't quite add up. But the dialogues is marvelous, the acting terrific, and the suspense constant. Great bits by James Woods, Christopher Plummer, Stephen Hill, and Morgan Freeman add to the irony and the enjoymnent. It's fun to watch William Hurt before he got so jaundiced.
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Not offbeat enough...promising cast and plot distressingly end up on the assembly line
moonspinner5515 May 2011
William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver are lovely to look at in their early acting days, but this convoluted plot from sometimes-talented screenwriter Steve Tesich takes both stars down a dead-end road. News-reporter Weaver believes janitor Hurt may have seen something the night a businessman was killed in an office building, but he--harboring a crush on her--is just playing footsie, that is until the killers find out about him. Opening 20 minutes are fine, if not thrilling; the production is glossy and the leads are well-matched. However, the picture gets bogged down in contrivances and overwitten characters, such as Weaver's parents and Christopher Plummer as a sinister Israeli. Director Peter Yates' energy peters out fast; his finale, in particular, is dreadful. *1/2 from ****
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burtonfan1711 July 2001
For weeks I have been looking for the perfect structure of a screenplay. This film had me in the first ten minutes because of what it set itself up to be. The structure had the camera following one principle lead, going off to meet the other principle lead, who would subsequently go off to meet the character from which the major plot developed. "Eyewitness" is a great film which showed me what I have been missing throughout my entire movie-watching career. After you meet the principle characters through following them, some kind of sub-plot, or major plot, or principle theme, will develop, and it will truly free up the entire movie. This is basically the structure of almost every independent film I have seen. Not to be missed.
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Some tightening would have helped
Wizard-831 July 2016
A movie like "Eyewitness" would probably not get made today, at least by a major Hollywood studio. It's more of a character study than a straight thriller, and its pacing is decidedly leisurely. Actually, at first I thought that the slow pacing was a refreshing change from what is often the norm today in Hollywood thrillers. And it was interesting to see these particular characters with various motivations. However, eventually I admit I started to get a little impatient with the movie. It is simply too drawn out, and with some characters that have little to no impact to the main narrative. Also, there are some glaring unanswered questions, like why the Sigourney Weaver character does not contact the police when there is an attempted kidnapping of her. And who the killer turns out to be is a big coincidence in several regards.

The movie does have some pleasures here and there. It's fun to see a pre-fame Morgan Freeman, and there are some nice scenes here and there, my favorite being when the William Hurt character talks to his girlfriend at the sweatshop. But in the end, the movie doesn't quite make it. It isn't a terrible movie, but more likely than not you'll feel some significant dissatisfaction when the end credits start rolling.
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Eyewitness Fails to Seduce **1/2
edwagreen9 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
William Hurt, as the janitor, knows what's going on, and he loves reporter Sigourney Weaver, the daughter of immigrants who are involved in getting out Jews from the Soviet Union.

The problem with this film is that the plight of Soviet Jews is stated but once in a sentence or so. It's because of these people that we had such a story to begin with and we could have seen the victims in relation to the murder. In other words, we needed a script conference here to do some real rewriting, or shall we say editing.

Christopher Plummer plays his villain part with relish, but he too is given little to work with. Irene Worth is wasted as Sigourney's mother, up to her neck in intrigue insofar as rescuing the Jewish people. James Woods, as young as ever here, is also wasted as the janitor-friend suspected in the killings.
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Low point for Weaver & Hurt
Alien3_fan29 May 2005
I'm a collector of films starring Ms. Weaver, so I bought this only because of her being in it. I find it really odd that her early career is filled with so many awful movies. She started with incredible promise in Alien but then had a slew of bombs. These bombs include this movie, Deal of the Century, One Woman or Two, and Half Moon Street. She also appeared in The Year Of Living Dangerously, which was not a bomb, but her performance was less than notable. In the time between Alien and it's 1986 sequel, Aliens, the only movie she did that was worth anything was Ghostbusters. before the release of Aliens, I'm sure everyone thought this woman was on her way out. Luckily she wasn't.

Back to Eyewitness though, the film is boring. It doesn't create any suspense. William Hurt seems like a cardboard stand in, and the atmosphere is just to dry. Sigourney is decent but nothing worth remembering.

Watch this movie if you must but don't go in with any expectations of a decent movie. Watch better movies with these two stars like Accidental Tourist and Working Girl.
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Fails to lift off
gcd703 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Peter Yates film from the pen of Steve Tesich is a relatively low key "thriller" that doesn't really manage to get off the ground. Story concerns the mysterious murder of an influential Asian business man and the subsequent implication of a pathetic Vietnam veteran (James Woods) who, the police believe, may have taken revenge on his ex-employer. As the "Eyewitness", William Hurt never believes his friend is capable of such an act.

Hurt is well below his usual strength, and one finds it hard to sympathise with him or an uninspired Sigourney Weaver. James Woods and Christopher Plummer do a little better in their support roles. Worth noting is the appearance of Morgan Freeman as Detective Black.

In retrospect Steve Tesich's story is only an unlikely romance dressed up as a mystery flick. The plot is far too contrived.

Friday, October 17, 1997 - Video
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Very good, but not as good as it might have been
Dehlia_3 May 2004
William Hurt plays a janitor who knows more than he's telling about a murder. Sigourney Weaver is the TV reporter he's long had a crush on, when she shows up at the murder scene for the story, he sees his knowledge as an opportunity to meet her.

William Hurt in the '80s was like John Cusack in the '90s (and to a lesser extent, today) -- not every movie he's in is good, but his very presence seems to add crackle and interest to the dialogue. He is particularly impressive in his scenes declaring his feelings for the reporter. Really impressive, actually, and the movie is totally worth watching for those scenes.

The sad thing about Eyewitness is that it sets up some very interesting musings on honesty, people using each other, and principals vs. feelings, and gives us some fairly interesting characters to play with those musings, and then trades in the whole package for a conventional, if well done, romance/mystery. Ah, well. 7/10
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You want to see this one if you like the actors...
francke-420 February 2000
The actors are the interesting part of this film. The story is secondary. If you like Hurt and Weaver, you will enjoy watching. The story is a bit over-contrived. (I know, all movies are contrived). Their problems are not easily consumed by 'ordinary' folk. But then these characters are unusual people in peculiar circumstance. Their acting is quite good though. Well worth viewing just for that.
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A benchmark film.
davemci9 February 2004
Superb, a truly outstanding work that delivers in all departments.

If you like intelligent films where the dialog and plot by turns amuse, scare, grip, thrill and astound you - then you are in for a treat.

The only negative feeling I had after watching this film was some sorrow that 23 years on from its release, there have been so few other films that can match it.
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Janitor in a Drum
sol121820 April 2005
***SPOILERS*** Love does strange things to people and the case of NYC office building janitor Daryl Deever, William Hurt, is a very good example. Throughout the entire film "Eyewitness" Daryl doesn't have a clue to why he's a marked man and what the reasons are for someone, or someone's, wanting him dead. What's more he doesn't even seen interested why! The guy is hopelessly in love.

Even at the end of the movie after a Charge of the Light Brigade down New York City's heavily traveled West Side with more bullets flying then even during the gunfight at O.K Corral Daryl doesn't at all seem to care what the reason for all this action and excitement is all about! All he has on his mind, all throughout the movie, is making it with channel Five TV live at five anchorwomen classy and pretty Tony Sokolow, Sigourney Weaver, who he's been secretly in love with ever since he saw her on TV six months ago.

Working as a janitor on the night shift Daryl finds that someone broke into the office of Mr. Long, Choa Li Chi, and murdered him. Daryl's friend and former army buddy Aldo Murcer, James Woods, had it out with Mr.Long and that argument cost him his job as a janitor. Aldo was also in the building the night that Mr. Long was murdered. This puts Daryl in a very uncomfortable position and has him withhold information from the police.

Seeing news reporter and anchorwomen Tony Sokolow at the scene Daryl just can't keep from trying to get to talk to her. Daryl concocts this BS story that he saw, which he didn't, the person who did in the unfortunate Mr.Long just to strike up a conversation and relationship with her. This harmless chat in the end leads the killer to overplay his hand thinking that Daryl indeed knows who he is and thus has to be eliminated! This also puts Tony's life in danger as well.

Terrific performances by all involved with William Hurt as Daryl the janitor who grew up on a farm who likes and understands horses. It's that valuable talent that in the end saved his life. Sigourney Weaver as the talented part-time concert pianist turned TV news anchorwoman who's attempt to get the big scoop on the Mr. Long murder uncovers things about a very close friend of her that she would rather not have known about.

James Woods in one of his earliest roles as the creepy and overbearing Aldo who's attempt to get his best friend Daryl to marry his sister Linda, Pamela Reed, backfires when Dayral meets Tony and the sparks really begin to fly. There was also a very moving scene between Dyral and Linda at her job where they both realized that they were not, and never were, in love with each other. Which freed them from the act that they were playing and allowed them to go on with their lives without the meddling and annoying Aldo running their lives into the ground. Aldo, if he didn't have enough problems already, is also into the mob for as much as $50,000.00 and with the cops looking for him in the Mr. Long killing, which the poor sap is innocent of, has him just about on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The exciting ending where Daryl, who's mind is still in a complete fog to why someone want's to murder him, goes to meet the killer thinking that he's Tony's father and, I guess, wanting to ask him for his daughters hand in marriage. Instead Daryl is set up to be killed by the killer and his accomplice who, like Daryl, have totally different ideas to just how much and what he knows about the Mr. Long murder.
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Sometimes it's a mistake to visit the past.
rafemcp1 April 2011
I remember this movie as being really great back in 1981. Weaver and Hurt were new and sexy and I guess the thriller part was thrilling... or something. Now, the two leads just seem oddly matched and the thrills aren't there.

The plot makes little sense. There are some inexplicable coincidences an irrelevant car/motorcycle chase and James Woods is ludicrously hammy.

Now I'm afraid to visit other Peter Yates films of yore. If Breaking Away and Bullit turned out to be as confused and lumpen as this movie is, I'll be disappointed. I've seen The Dresser recently and it's still very good.
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Yeah this film is great.
superbad200027 May 2001
I enjoyed this film. It worked on all levels. In a world where we are very critical of filmmaking this one steals the prize and runs with the whole package. And plus Mrs. Weaver always RULES. You must see this for yourself if you are a film buff.
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The perfect screenplay?
Onyx-1019 July 2000
Are scripts art, like novels? Well maybe not,but everything every screenwriting teacher said one should do is in this movie. You may be surprised at how many stars of today turn up in this story, if you aren't knocked out by what each actor brings to his or her "small" role. Todays young actors can surely act, but Sigourney Weaver is a movie star and proves herself beautifully in this; for someone who was covered in sweat and grime in "Alien", she cleans up nicely, and William Hurt will remind you of any jr. high crush you ever wanted to forget you had. My favorites though, are by far the two cops played by...well just rent it. One of my all-time favorite movies.
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Made almost 4 decades ago, its themes are from the era, but the tale is intriguing
inkblot1111 September 2017
Daryll (William Hurt) is a Vietnam vet with a somewhat menial janitor's job. His fellow janitor at the same office building, likewise a Vietnam vet, Aldo (James Woods) has bigger dreams for the two of them. Operating in tandem, Aldo wants to open their own business. But, Al has a darker past, being somewhat mentally off balance. One night, at the building, a successful Vietnamese business man is murdered. Poor Daryll finds the body. At once, this mild mannered man fears that Aldo was the shooter. But, Daryll's attention is soon drawn to the beautiful reporter who shows up to get a story. Its Tony Sokolow (Sigourney Weaver), the object of Daryll's dream affections. Instead of relating much about the discovery of the body, Daryll flirts shamelessly and Tony, who is already engaged to an Israeli bigshot, Joseph (Christopher Plummer), wants to end the conversation. It is then that Daryll pretends he knows more than he does and leads her into another meeting. Meanwhile, Joseph, who is a friend of the wealthy Sokolow family, is off to negotiate the release of more Jews from the Soviet Union to Israel. Unbeknownst to Tony, his travel companion is his "lady on the side". As the police detectives (Morgan Freeman and Steven Hill) try to find the murderer, they trail Daryll and Tony and search for Aldo, who is missing. But, was either janitor the real killer? Could it be someone totally unexpected? This film has some themes that appear foreign to today's population. First, the issue of Vietnam vets and their poor prospects upon return to the USA is examined with touching candor here. This is especially true of its look into the mental health problems of those who fought an unpopular and damaging war. Then, since The Soviet Union collapse, there has been little discussion of former attempts to get oppressed Russian Jews within the Union to Israel for a better life. The cast is great. Hurt displays a humor and gregariousness missing from a good deal of his works and Weaver compliments him. Plummer, always fine, displays a darker side while Freeman, Hill, Woods, Pamela Reed, Kenneth McMillan and the rest are wonderful. Yes, the sets and costumes are from the seventies, which are somewhat comical, but the script/direction is taut and intelligent. Did you miss Eyewitness long ago? You can still find copies so search for it if this summary sounds worthy to you.
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An Okay Crime-Drama which Suffered from a Rather Slow Pace
Uriah433 August 2017
"Daryl Deever" (William Hurt) is a decorated combat veteran who has returned from Vietnam and obtained a job as a janitor in a building in Manhatten. Also working with him is a hot-tempered buddy he served with named "Aldo Mercer" (James Woods). One night after finishing up Daryl hears a noise and upon checking it out finds the body of an influential South Vietnamese man and immediately calls the police. Although he doesn't really know that much about the murder he insinuates that he does to attract a female television reporter named "Tony Sokolow" (Sigourney Weaver) that he has developed a crush on. Unfortunately, this creates problems for all concerned as the murderer cannot afford to leave any loose ends. Now rather than reveal any more I will just say that this was an okay crime-drama which suffered from a slow pace and a rather ridiculous "Hollywood" ending. Likewise, there were several sub-plots which ended up going nowhere and that didn't help the overall pacing of the film either. In any case, I suppose this film was good enough for the time spent and because of that I have rated it accordingly. Average.
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Confusing Thriller With Some Good Scenes.
rmax30482323 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
William Hurt is a night janitor in an office building in which the murder of a powerful Vietnamese wheeler and dealer takes place. The police suspect him of knowing more than he's willing to tell, especially about the presence at the scene of Hurt's weird friend from his days in Vietnam, James Woods. Two police lieutenants, Steven Hill and Morgan Freeman, follow them both around.

Hurt has had a crush on a television reporter, Sigourney Weaver, for years and when she questions him with her camera crew, he kvells and hints that he's holding something back. Like the journalist she is, she allows him to get close to her with predictable results.

Also with predictable problems associated with sexual and emotional traffic between the social classes. Hurt is a lowly Irish guy with a paralyzed Dad who gets drunk, and strange friends. Weaver is a very wealthy young Jewish woman with a philanthropic upper-class family who is semi-engaged to the suave Christopher Plummer, an international promoter of Israeli causes.

Steve Tesich, the writer, and Peter Yates, the director, do a fine job of contrasting the handsome, charming, but luckless Hurt's life with that of Weaver in her sophisticated milieu.

And there are some surprisingly innovative scenes. Hurt, lugging his waspish father up a couple of flights of stairs, for instance. Or Hurt, after just meeting Weaver, asking her if she needs her floors buffed and then describing exactly how he'd do it -- he'd strip off the old layers of wax, then lay down a new coat, then he'd buff it and buff it and buff it -- gently -- slowly -- until it beamed, while Weaver gapes open-mouthed at him. It's hilarious.

Other scenes, lamentably, are hackneyed. There is a drawn-out fight between Hurt and his maddened dog that turns bathetic in an instant. And no matter how hard he tries, Yates simply cannot juice up still another sneaky pursuit through an abandoned warehouse, not even by turning the warehouse into a horse barn. The James Woods narrative, like the suspicion thrown on the Vietnamese Mafia, are red herrings.

Yet I was filled with admiration at the scene of Sigourney Weaver riding her splendid horse in Central Park. She's so slender and upright and seems to echo the stature of the horse on which she posts along so comfortably. And when she coaxes the horse into doing a couple of sideways steps a la seconde! The only problem with the dressage is that she's wearing brown suede chaps. That's meant to be a pun, though not as lousy as it is.
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