MOVIE REVIEW : 'Body Parts' Fails Its Premise

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Let's first clear the air on "Body Parts." Yes, the timing of this movie is, shall we say, inopportune. On the other hand, is there ever a good time to release a horror movie about limb transplants?

"Body Parts" (citywide) is based on the French novel "Choice Cuts," which was penned by the same French writing team, Boileau-Narcejac, responsible for the book on which Alfred Hitchcock based "Vertigo." At various times in the last two decades at least half a dozen filmmakers have optioned "Choice Cuts," and it's easy to see why. As adapted by co-writer and director Eric Red, it has a great horror movie premise: A criminal psychologist (Jeff Fahey), injured in a car accident, has his amputated right arm replaced by the arm of a crazed killer who has just been executed. Gradually, the psychologist receives unbidden flashbacks of gruesome murders, and his newly grafted limb begins to strike out on its own.

As it turns out, the killer's left arm and two legs have also been shipped out. The arm recipient (Brad Dourif), formerly a hack painter, is now an Expressionist virtuoso whose garish, thick-painted canvases are all about violence and torture; the leg man (Peter Murnik) has an unaccountable habit of jamming his foot on his car's accelerator in traffic.

Eric Red, who was also responsible for the scripts for "The Hitcher" and "Blue Steel," co-wrote the movie with Norman Snider, co-writer of "Dead Ringers." Talk about unholy alliances! "Body Parts" (rated R for violence and language) isn't quite as terrible as you might imagine. The direction has an edgy authority, and there's one terrifying scene where the psychologist, who gets himself fingerprinted in order to discover where his limb originated, stares in horror as the police rap sheet prints out a nauseating litany of murders. But the movie is too cold and clammy and humorless. If this kind of material is to be done at all, it needs the kind of wacko flourish that Brian De Palma might have brought to it, or the Stuart Gordon who made "Re-Animator"--still by far the best body parts movie ever made. What's the point in making a transplanted limbs movie if you're afraid to go out on a limb?

'Body Parts'

Jeff Fahey: Bill Crushank

Lindsay Duncan: Dr. Alice Webb

Kim Delaney: Karen Crushank

Brad Dourif: Remo Lacey

A Paramount Pictures presentation of a Frank Mancuso Jr. production. Director Eric Red. Producer Frank Mancuso Jr. Executive producer Michael MacDonald. Screenplay by Eric Red and Norman Snider, based on the novel "Choice Cuts" by Boileau-Narcejac. Cinematographer Theo Van de Sande. Editor Anthony Redman. Costumes Lynda Kemp. Music Loek Dikker. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (violence and language).

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