Open-and-shut case

Movie: Eyes Wide Shut

Our Rating: 2.00

Stanley Kubrick's directorial swan song has been the subject of so much speculation and innuendo that we should probably clear up some of the more pervasive rumors before going any further.

Do we get to see Tom Cruise in a dress? Nope. Nicole Kidman naked? Yep -- from the first scene onward. Is the long-delayed, extensively reworked psychodrama worth watching? Perhaps, but only out of morbid curiosity. Is it sordid? Let's get out the list!

In an unimaginably sleazy two hours and 40 minutes, "Eyes Wide Shut" forces us to bear witness to a panoply of voyeuristic scenarios. They include (but are in no way limited to) the following: Kidman getting it on with a sailor in a recurring fantasy sequence; a pagan sex orgy taking place in a secluded mansion; an immigrant costume-shop owner selling his teen-age daughter's body; a nude hooker overdosing on a coke/heroin speedball; and Kidman (yes, her again) finishing up her business as she sits on the john. A lack of variety is not among this film's failings.

Innate ludicrousness however, most certainly is. The story on which Kubrick has chosen to hang the above filth is a silly, incoherent mess that forms the basis of an ignominious capper to an otherwise sterling career.

Cruise and Kidman play Bill and Alice Harford, a well-to-do M.D. and his besotted hausfrau (not a husband-and-wife team of psychologists, as had been widely and erroneously reported). When Alice announces in a hysterically over-the-top monologue that she once found herself dangerously attracted to another man, Bill retaliates by submerging himself in an underworld of sexual deviance that takes him far from the safe environs of the couple's upper-Manhattan milieu. One might be tempted to term his quest a voyage of discovery, but the only truth Bill stumbles across is the realization that human beings are capable of some genuinely twisted behavior. To Kubrick, this is apparently the Holy Grail of consciousness.

Character development isn't high on the director's agenda. His aim is to turn the public images of Hollywood's prom king and queen inside-out by subjecting them to a relentless battery of shock theatrics. He wants to capitalize on his stars' notoriety, not their abilities.

A pair of embarrassingly weak performances kills that program in its crib. Finally playing into the hands of his detractors, Cruise essays a portrayal that's self-parodying in its all-American earnestness. He's doing a nightclub comic's impression of Tom Cruise in a part that merely requires him to be Tom Cruise. Kidman is even worse, parceling out her character's drunken dialogue at a deliberate, one-word-a-minute pace that's pure Emo Phillips. No wonder the film runs so long.

The real star of a Stanley Kubrick outing, however, is Kubrick himself. His trademark iciness is well on display, particularly in a ballroom sequence whose picture-perfect revelers waltz across the screen like the ghostly guests in "The Shining." Unfortunately, they inhabit a world that's no closer to our own. In Kubrick's New York, Greenwich Village prostitutes boast flawless porcelain skin and keep copies of sociology treatises on their bedroom bookshelves. The streets are always close to empty, day or night. But if you're having trouble locating an old buddy at his usual nightclub hangout, just walk into the coffee shop next door, where the waitress on duty not only happens to know your pal's name, but can point you toward the hotel where he's hanging his hat. Frank Capra never envisioned a community this interdependent.

Most of the major story points are similarly nonsensical, and the leaps in logic are made all the more jarring by some shockingly sloppy cuts between scenes. Whatever Kubrick was obsessing over in the years it took him to complete "Eyes Wide Shut," it can't have been continuity or editing.

All in all, this is a woeful exit for a talent who deserved a far sturdier cinematic headstone. To protect his unexpectedly endangered legacy, Kubrick should have spent less time putting kinks up on the screen and more time working them out.