By Owen Gleiberman
Updated September 09, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

Has there ever been a movie psychiatrist who behaved remotely the way real shrinks do? Probably not: Who’d want to watch a movie about a monosyllabic automaton? In Hitchcock’s Spellbound, Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman traded gothic Freudian wonder-theories as if they’d just arrived from a lab in Transylvania. In The Prince of Tides, the most ludicrous attribute of Barbra Streisand’s swank Manhattan therapist wasn’t her never-had-a-day-job nails but the fact that, in a session with the brother (Nick Nolte) of a suicidal patient, she insisted on serving refreshments with her elaborate tea-service china, as if she weren’t the psychiatrist but the hostess.

If you have a taste for this sort of Hollywood-therapist kitsch, there are moments to savor in the deliriously brain-dead Color of Night (Hollywood, R). Take, for instance, the scene in which New York psychologist Bill Capa (Bruce Willis) stands in his sky-rise office massaging the ego of one of his more disturbed patients. How do we know she’s a head case? Because she responds to his advice by running across the room and crashing through the window, falling dozens of stories to her death. (Maybe he should have lowered his rates.) Willis plays the moment with one of those forlorn, I-hate-when-that-happens stares, a bit of coy underacting that, in context, seems more ridiculous than overacting.

Stricken with a major bout of Hitchcockian Sensory Guilt (which results in his inability to see red-i.e., the color of blood), Capa travels to Los Angeles, where his psychiatrist buddy, Bob Moore (Scott Bakula), invites him to sit in on his Monday night therapy group, as though it were a late-night jam session and Willis had just showed up with his blues harp. Bob, who has made it big with his recent self-help book, lives in a white-on-white, modern- art-bedecked fortress that looks like the residence of your typical studio executive. Color of Night is yet another attempt to inflate a therapist’s existence into sexy commercial pulp-to spice up the life of the mind with some raunch and mayhem. When Bob is murdered, and Bill takes over his five patients (one of whom appears to be the culprit), we know what we’re in for: an Agatha Christie potboiler updated to the era of the couch.

The patients, all nutjob cliches, include an obsessive-compulsive nerd (Brad Dourif); a jittery sexaholic (Lesley Ann Warren); a cop (Lance Henriksen) who has been in a rage ever since his wife and daughter were murdered; a sneering ponytailed artist (Kevin J. O’Connor); and a stuttering transsexual candidate played by well, I’d be giving away a secret if I revealed the performer. (Let’s just say the casting lends fresh meaning to the observation that you can always tell when someone’s wearing a toupee.) The director, veteran Hollywood maverick Richard Rush, hasn’t made a film since 1980’s powerfully idiosyncratic thriller The Stunt Man, but his main contribution here seems to have been to get everyone to overact as hysterically as possible. Even the normally sleepy Ruben Blades, playing an ill-tempered cop, comes down with a bad case of the heebie-jeebies (I’m sure he cracked up everyone on the set). As if to compensate, Willis looks lost in a gray funk.

Of course, such fripperies as plot and character were never the selling point of Color of Night. That would be the startlingly gratuitous sex scenes featuring Willis and Jane March. March, fresh from The Lover, looks like a naughty-minded Eurasian teenybopper who happens to have been graced with the body of Ava Gardner. Her performance consists mostly of doffing her clothes at the slightest excuse (like, say, cooking dinner) and getting Willis to do the same. For all the flesh on display, though, one item of anatomy remains notoriously absent-and if anything, its owner should be grateful to the MPAA. Thanks to them, Color of Night is destined to be forgotten in weeks instead of remembered forever as the movie in which Bruce Willis flashed the audience. C-

Color of Night

  • Movie
  • R
  • Richard Rush