By Ty Burr
Updated January 28, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST
Ashley Judd, Eye of the Beholder

The demented, punch-drunk farrago that is Eye of the Beholder deserves at least to be placed in context. Having been filmed way back in early 1998, the movie should really be slotted next to the weird, bad stuff (”The Passion of Darkly Noon,” ”Normal Life”) that Ashley Judd made before being reborn as the Ida Lupino of her generation via last fall’s ”Double Jeopardy,” not to mention the weird, bad stuff (”Nightwatch,” ”A Life Less Ordinary”) that Ewan McGregor made between breaking through with ”Trainspotting” and saving his career bacon with ”The Phantom Menace.” The stars, in other words, may look back and laugh. The rest of us are on our own.

Based on the critically acclaimed 1980 suspense novel by Marc Behm, ”Eye of the Beholder” more or less throws ”Vertigo,” ”The Conversation,” ”Body Double,” and — so help me — ”Duel in the Sun” into a blender and hits puree. McGregor plays the Eye, a pasty-faced surveillance geek at the British Embassy in Washington who, while investigating the blackmail of his boss’ son, stumbles across one Joanna Eris (Judd), and watches in awed terror as she lures the young man to her home, butchers him with a carving knife, then wails psychotically for her dead father. Needless to say, he falls in love.

Having elicited our sympathies, the movie embarks on a sub-Hitchcockian cross-country ramble as the Eye trails Joanna through a series of personalities, wigs, hotel rooms, and random murders. Just when the plot begins to sag, though, our hero does something bad — I mean, Really Bad — that effectively destroys any remaining emotional interest we might have in the guy.

In a sense, that’s when ”Eye of the Beholder” gets interesting. Or rather, so lunatic that it becomes highly entertaining in an I’ve-never-seen-a-building-collapse-like-THAT way. By the time k.d. lang signs off as the Eye’s embassy contact, and Geneviève Bujold turns up as a creepy dominatrix therapist, and Jason Priestley romps through as a bottle-blond junkie-rapist, and the Eye has tracked Joanna to a diner in Alaska, there’s not much else for viewers to do but give themselves over to the whims of the bad-movie gods.

For the record, this reviewer would willingly pay cash money to watch Ashley Judd read hog reports — and, okay, would watch Ewan McGregor read hog reports but wouldn’t be willing to pay for it — so it’s nice to relay that none of this seems the actors’ fault. It’s writer-director Stephan Elliott (”The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) who gets the laurel and hearty handshake for this puppy. Clearly, he set out to make a perverse, damned romance about a watcher who loses all perspective. Just as clearly, he fell into the same trap.

Eye of the Beholder

  • Movie
  • R
  • 109 minutes
  • Stephan Elliott