When critics, digging into their handbook of high praise, call a film ”a roller-coaster ride,” they mean, of course, that it zings along too quickly for the mind to track. Final Analysis, which stars Richard Gere as a San Francisco psychiatrist enmeshed in the lives of two beautiful and treacherous sisters, would love to be a roller coaster of a thriller. When you consider how smoothly made it is, how crammed with tricks and reversals and loop-the-loops, the movie would seem to offer audiences the chance for a first-rate emotional whiplash. Yet there’s an oddity about this particular roller coaster: The more you stay on it, the more it feels as if you’re still climbing that first big hill — still waiting for the plunge, the rush.
The young director Phil Joanou (State of Grace) has never made a thriller before, but here, working from a script by Wesley Strick (Cape Fear), he succeeds at creating calm, quiet spaces for his actors, so that each new scene has a different — entertaining — mood. Early on, there are funny, teasing therapy sessions between the scrupulous Dr. Barr (Gere) and Diana (Uma Thurman), a mysterious young woman who appears to be shielding herself from some forgotten horror. Then Barr agrees to meet with her older sister, Heather (Kim Basinger), and an atmosphere of desperate romance develops. He’s lonely and placid, too obsessed with his work, and she’s an emotionally fragile sexpot married to a crooked and sadistic contractor (Eric Roberts). Not only that, but she suffers from the Hitchcockian-sounding ailment of ”pathological intoxication” — one or two sips of alcohol, and she goes psycho.
Final Analysis isn’t predictable or even particularly implausible (as this sort of thing goes); it’s a methodical piece of middle-grade trash. Still, there’s a spark of exhilaration missing. The picture is like Hitchcock without the spryness, the wit: You feel as if you’re on a guided tour of a thriller. Look over there — it’s the courtroom scene! And the double cross, and the femme fatale who’s so, so cold! Strick writes stylish dialogue, but his script is built out of some very familiar Tinkertoys. I mean, can we please have a moratorium on homages to Vertigo? As metaphors for grand passion go, shots of foaming surf shooting out of San Francisco Bay are right up there with roaring fireplaces.
Joanou has a gift with actors, which means that his two rather bland leads seem less bland than usual. Gere, cast against type, plays the shrink as a courtly, likable healer, a guy so focused on other people’s thoughts he seems dissociated from his own. Basinger works hard to act luminous and unstable, but she remains a fundamentally unexciting actress; she’s like a stand-in for the real star. The most gripping performers are on the sidelines: Eric Roberts, a master of hyperbolic sliminess (he’s like Cagney playing a pimp on steroids), and Uma Thurman, who brings her underwritten role a hundred shades of curiosity, brattishness, and hopeless romantic fervor. She couldn’t be a stand-in if she tried. B-