Film Reviews

Murder to Watch

At first glance, Jonathan Darby's Hush appears to have a couple of things going for it. There's some high-wattage star power in the persons of Jessica Lange and Emma's Gwyneth Paltrow. There's a possibly lethal power struggle between a possessive mother and the pretty daughter-in-law who's snatched her sonny boy away. There's the impending birth of an heir. And the whole thing is set at a picture-perfect Kentucky horse farm, where the bluegrass sways in the breeze while Mom cooks up evil plots in the mansion house.

Alas, Alfred Hitchcock is dead.
English rookie director Darby and his mates made such a hash of Hush that its release was delayed for more than a year. It's gone through three titles, countless script changes, disastrous test screenings and at least two reshoots -- to tack on a new ending that reduces the body count. Technically, it looks like six cinematographers shot the thing using ten different film stocks.

In the end, the actresses are terrific, playing against each other like troupers. But they don't stand a chance against all this incompetence.

Need to hear more? Well, Sophocles and Freud could both sue for plagiarism if they were so inclined, because Darby and co-writer Jane Rusconi have dusted off that ancient Oedipal thing for the ten-thousandth time. To wit: Lange's superficially charming Martha Baring, a genteel Southern widow of the old school, really wants nothing more from life than to keep Jackson, her pretty twit of a son, close enough to kiss on the lips and have him oversee good old Kilronan, the failing family farm where they manufacture, uh, racehorses -- another plot element about which Dr. Freud might have an opinion.

For his part, Jackson (That Thing You Do's Johnathon Schaech) displays almost as much interest in nuzzling Mommie dearest as in tending to his bewildered bride, Helen (Paltrow), who's about to bear him (and Mom) a son. If Helen really had as many smarts as the movie would have us believe, she'd catch the first thing smoking back to dark, nasty Manhattan and let Jackson and Martha have their way with each other out in the breeding shed. Instead, she sticks around the farm and, while one of the dumbest husbands in movie history looks the other way, Martha manipulates and torments the intruder in her midst, then poisons her with horse medicine.

Herewith, Martha's early charm: "Mighty inconsiderate of you, young lady, stealing away my baby boy." Of course, the obligatory salty paternal grandmother (Nina Foch) knows the real story, knows that Martha means what she says and knows all the Southern Gothic secrets (Infidelity! Murder! The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name!) lurking at Kilronan. If Grandma can get the word to poor Helen before Martha scalds her to death in the steam room at the retirement home, there may be hope for a happy ending.

But there will be no happy ending for Hush, a movie that might have been. They started with great talent, but these moviemakers didn't have a clue about what to do with secrets, lies and lust. Matter of fact, they don't know much about horseracing, either. The admirable leading ladies mired in the piece will just have to write this bomb off to experience and get the hell out of Kentucky.

Rated PG-13.
Directed by Jonathan Darby. With Jessica Lange, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Johnathon Schaech.

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Bill Gallo