In a choice between Bard addicts and science ghouls, the play's the thing

Dahl has directed two of the most compelling independent neo-noir films of the past few years--Red Rock West and The Last Seduction--but he's just going through the motions here. This is your run-of-the-mill sci-fi crime-genre movie, gussied up to look like something it's not, but Dahl can't overcome the inexplicable motivations and decisions of these characters. Why Krane continually injects himself with others' brain juice doesn't make a lot of sense even by the movie's own standard of flimsy logic, and Dahl seems most concerned with just getting it over with. It's all style-by-rote for him now, and he commits the one unforgivable sin of a director: He's as bored by his movie as we are.

Even more puzzling is the convoluted, unsatisfying screenplay. It's difficult to imagine what first-time screenwriter Bill Geddie envisioned when he thought up this story, but it's probably a good bet that he had just finished reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when he saw The Fugitive. He must have thought the two might complement one another. Unfortunately, they do not. Unforgettable feels completely fake: The look of the Victorian medical instruments that Krane uses on himself seem designed for the sole purpose of appearing horrific, like those vile medieval tools wielded by the insane gynecologists in David Cronenberg's creepy thriller Dead Ringers; and Krane employs his putative interest in catching the killer as a mere excuse for continuing his fixation with getting high on other people's tragedies. Yet the deep psychological mysteries that beg to be examined--how a forensic pathologist must feel impotent at not being able to solve a murder committed in his own home, or the invasive, heart-wrenching act of putting himself in his wife's head at the moment of her death--are left unexplored.

If only Unforgettable didn't play it so straight, it might have at least made light of its own hokeyness by winking at the audience. Instead, you begin to second-guess the movie, imagining how Krane might be conceived of as a feminist icon--the only man ever to get inside a woman's head, to know what it's like to "be a woman" (it worked wonders in Tootsie)--or how the film could make Fiorentino the butch hero rather than the mousy, cardigan-wearing shill that she is. It's a wasted effort; the film simply will never be as good as what you can think up for it.

A Midwinter's Tale. Castle Rock Entertainment. Michael Maloney, Judy Sawalha. Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh. Now playing.

Unforgettable. MGM-UA/Dino De Laurentiis. Ray Liotta, Linda Fiorentino. Written by Bill Geddie. Directed by John Dahl. Now playing.

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