MOVIE REVIEW : Goldblum: Saving Grace in 'Twisted Obsession'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the murky psychological drama "Twisted Obsession" (at the Century City Cineplex Odeon) it's easier to understand why Jeff Goldblum accepted its starring role than why the screenwriter he plays so well succumbs to an amorphous project seemingly fraught with disaster.

Adapted from British writer-director Christopher Frank's novel "The Mad Monkey" by Spanish director Fernando Trueba (in his English-language debut), the shadowy set-in-Paris film affords the versatile Goldblum a splendid opportunity to play a witty, charming man left vulnerable by his wife's unexpected departure and thrust into an emotional crisis which provides him with the opportunity to grow up at last.

Under Trueba's subtle, stylish direction Goldblum gives us an engaging, fully rounded, finely graded portrayal. The trouble is that the context in which this man's maturing process takes place is not nearly so well-developed.

In essence "Twisted Obsession" is a "Lolita" tale, and a very furtive one at that, with hints of incest, glimpses of drug-taking and heavy allusions to "Peter Pan." Indeed, it is a bit of dialogue from the James Barrie play, in which Peter confides to Wendy his fear of growing up, that is the inspiration for the film that a British rock video wunderkind (Dexter Fletcher) wants Goldblum to write. Goldblum is less than enthused--until he watches a Cannes prize-winning short that Fletcher made featuring his sister (Liza Walker). (We only get a quick look, showing Walker's face registering ecstasy.) And when Goldblum meets Walker, who plays a girl of 16 who looks closer to 12, he is transfixed.

No doubt about it, Walker, making her film debut, is a diminutive beauty, but she's been asked to play a sullen type who seems to be in the habit of offering sex to every man she meets. She may look like an adolescent but comes on like a world-weary streetwalker.

Goldblum may persuade us that his screenwriter becomes swiftly obsessed with her, but even though we know little about her and her brother (who also looks like an adolescent), she exudes no aura of mystery. It would seem that Prueba himself doesn't have that much confidence in Walker's femme fatale aura because, although the prime mover, her screen time is kept to a minimum.

Yet it is Miranda Richardson, well-remembered as the Marilyn Monroe lookalike heroine of "Dance with a Stranger," who has the truly thankless role as Goldblum's Paris-based British agent, a gallant, elegant wheelchair-bound woman whose presence is intended to be pivotal but who is reduced to a gamy plot contrivance. "Twisted Obsession" is sleek and sophisticated but is finally too elusive to be either convincing or satisfying.

'TWISTED OBSESSION'

An IVE release. Producer Andres Vicente Gomez. Director Fernando Trueba. Screenplay Trueba, Manolo Matji; based on Christopher Frank's novel "The Mad Monkey." Camera Jose Luis Alcaine. Associate producer Emmanuel Schlumberger. Music Antoine Duhamel. Art director Pierre-Louis Thevenet. Costumes Ivette Frank. Stunt coordinator Alain Petit. Film editor Carmen Frias. With Jeff Goldblum, Miranda Richardson, Anemone, Dexter Fletcher, Daniel Ceccaldi, Liza Walker, Arielle Dombasle, Jerome Natali.

Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (sexual content, nudity).

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