A fiend, indeed

The remake of Diabolique is a stale, creaky version of the sick French classic

Stone rushes headlong into the part of Nicole, and the force of her performance--her commitment to it even when it devolves into howlingly dumb melodrama--is admirable. Her casting is one of the few coups the film can boast. Stone has the boozy weariness of a modern Simone Signoret--who, not surprisingly, played the same role in the original. Even with her perfect makeup and flawlessly coifed hair, she's convincingly carnal as Nicole.

When directors portray stunningly beautiful actresses like Adjani and Stone, they often draw attention to their shapely figures while trying not to look obvious doing it. That's how Adjani is presented here--a nude scene in a bath is inserted for obligatory titillation more than plot necessity--but Stone luxuriates in Nicole's base sexuality: She's all tight skirts, braless jogging outfits, slinky black slips, and trashy halter tops. It's not cheesecake, really; it's part of the frontal-assault quality that distinguishes her character. She's methodical and cool, but also very intuitive. She knows how to de-glamorize herself with black-framed glasses and mousy cardigans, yet come across as wholly feminine. A strong understanding of character is important to the success of any movie, and while Diabolique doesn't know where to go with it--the movie is uncharacteristically directionless for a thriller--Stone gamely wrestles with giving it her all.

During one of the few promising moments in Diabolique, the scene of Mia slipping a mickey to her husband in glass after glass of whiskey is crosscut with Nicole and her neighbors watching a contentious drinking scene from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on TV. "I'll wait for this movie to come out in color," the neighbor declares. She made a mistake in thinking color alone improves a classic. As dusty as old movies may seem on the video shelf, there's a reason we call them classics: They can be fresher and livelier than stale, halfhearted remakes like this.

Diabolique. Warner Bros. Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani, Kathy Bates, Chazz Palminteri. Written by Don Roos. Directed by Jeremiah Chechik. Now showing.

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