Goodbye Lover

April 23, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Let’s say you’re Picasso: you make a painting of a woman with two eyes on one side of her face. And in that one revolutionary gesture, you shatter planar conventions of graphic representation, challenging the brain’s perception of three-dimensional structure. Wow! Exciting Cubism!

Now, let’s say you copy Picasso’s methods at home, not because you’re a scholar of Cubism but because you think the old guy was so cool, and you sketch your sister with two eyes on one side of her head. Oy! A bad portrait of your sister!

Now we can talk about Goodbye Lover, a ”noir thriller” and ”black comedy” that trots out a collection of ”cool” and ”funny” and ”outrageous” characters, plot twists, and props associated with the genres and ends up with…a bad portrait of illegible, unlikable folks living empty L.A. lives and doing each other in to collect big insurance settlements when not promenading through expensively decorated sets. (Who knew double-dealing swine appreciated the collectibility of mid-century furniture?)

Stiletto-heeled Sandra (Patricia Arquette, once again va-va-vooming as a femme fatale, but coming across more egg timer than siren) leads this daisy chain of scam-or-be-scammed artists. She loves watching Martha Stewart on TV and singing tunes from The Sound of Music, and she’s married to an alky ad exec (Dermot Mulroney). She’s also carrying on a conventionally kinky affair with his brother and business colleague (Don Johnson), a satiny PR exec who plays the organ at the church Sandra sweetly attends. (There’s no payoff as to why the pair are churchgoers; it’s just an amusing detail. She pulls out all his stops — ha ha!) Also embroiled is a girlish secretary (Mary-Louise Parker) who mucks up Sandra’s plans to make off with the brothers’ millions.

Meanwhile, digging the dirt on these unconvincing sharks is a bitter, lonely detective who makes deadpan jokes that sound an awful lot like Ellen DeGeneres’; conveniently, she’s played by DeGeneres in an ugly dun-brown wig, chewing lewdly on a corn dog and picking her teeth.

Everyone, in other words, wears both eyes on one side of their face in this town without pity. The mediocre mayhem was written by first-timer Ron Peer, punched up by Toy Story‘s Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, directed — in a big, bad-alley departure from The Killing Fields and The Mission — by Roland Joffe, and voluptuously shot by Dante Spinotti, who made real noir magic on L.A. Confidential. The few seconds of Mildred Pierce on the secretary’s telly is the only source of real heat in Goodbye Lover; the rest is Cubist vamping. C

Goodbye Lover

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Goodbye Lover

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