Times Staff Writer

At the beginning of "Nomads" (citywide), a bloodied and terror-stricken Pierce Brosnan stabs at emergency ward doctor Lesley-Anne Down as he utters his dying words in French. Not only does he leave Down with a cut on her neck bad enough to require stitches but he also has plunged her into a waking nightmare, having transferred into her mind the whole horrifying experience that has cost him his life.

If style were everything, "Nomads" would have it made and then some. In look and feel and in its L.A. environs it brings to mind "Body Double," but alongside it, the Brian De Palma thriller seems as substantial as Shakespeare. As Down reels around, trying to hold on to her own mind as Brosnan's memories intermittently invade it, we learn that the bearded Brosnan was a French anthropologist who, with his beautiful auburn-haired wife (Anna-Maria Montecelli), had just settled into a hillside home that had been the scene of a hideous Tate-like massacre.

Obscene messages cover the garage walls, and a band of punks (among them Adam Ant, Mary Woronov and Frank Doubleday) drive up and down out front in a van. Alas, as an anthropologist, Brosnan is more curious than afraid. Of course, these aren't ordinary punks. . . .

In strict fairness one shouldn't give away their secret, but the fact that "Nomads" writer-director John McTiernan takes himself so very seriously only makes his tale of the supernatural seem all the sillier, and as a result, merely grisly rather than scary. There are some spooky, other-worldly moments, as when Brosnan stumbles through a Venice doorway, finding himself in a seemingly endless corridor, spanned by arches and greeted by a nun (Frances Bay, delightfully eerie) who tries to warn him how and why the punkers, whom she calls Nomads, are so dangerous.

Cameraman Stephen Ramsey and production designer Marcia Hinds have given "Nomads" a sleekly elegant look, and Bill Conti's score is properly ominous. But McTiernan, an American Film Institute alum in his feature debut, so overreaches in his hard-to-swallow premise that his film can't sustain such high-style elements.

His cast, which includes Nina Foch as the chic realtor who sold Brosnan his cursed house and Jeannie Elias as Down's foul-mouthed friend, is doggedly conscientious, especially Brosnan in working up an acceptable French accent. "Nomads" (rated R for considerable bloodshed, some sex, some strong language) leaves us wondering what Brosnan's "Remington Steele" fans will make of it--and what made him choose it for his leap from TV to the big screen in the first place. 'NOMADS'

An Atlantic Releasing Corp. presentation in association with Elliott Kastner and Cinema 7 Productions. Exec. producer Jerry Gershwin. Producers George Pappas, Cassian Elwes. Writer-director John McTiernan. Camera Stephen Ramsey. Music Bill Conti. Production designer Marcia Hinds. Costumes Rhaz Zeisler. Associate producer Stanley Mark. Special effects supervisor Paul Staples. Stunt coordinator B.J. Davis. With Pierce Brosnan, Lesley-Anne Down, Anna-Maria Montecelli, Adam Ant, Hector Mercado, Josie Cotton, Mary Woronov, Frank Doubleday, Frances Bay, Jeannie Elias, Nina Foch.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

MPAA rating: R (under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian.)

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