Mirage (1995): Paul Williams’ Misfire

The Master of Suspense deserves better than the atrocious homage he gets in Paul Williams’ Mirage, an incoherent thriller that can’t decide whether to slavishly copy Hitchcock’s Vertigo or make a satire out of it. Preposterous plotting and radical changes in tone inevitably dictate the fate of this routine B picture as straight-to-video. Closing night selection of the Palm Springs International Film Fest was greeted with laughter and sneering by a bewildered audience.

The writer-director team of James Andronica and Williams, whose effort, The November Men, was seen by few people last year, lacks both the savvy and technical skill of Brian DePalma, a filmmaker who made a career out of tributes to Hitchcock, but also knows how to add a fresh angle, humor and irony to his homages, like Body Double, which was also inspired by Vertigo.

In Andronica’s tale, Edward James Olmos is cast in the Jimmy Stewart role, as Matteo Juarez, a down-and-out ex-cop who cannot get over inadvertently causing the death of an innocent female hostage, while trying to shoot her captor.

Just as he’s sinking deeper and deeper into melancholy, Matteo is hired by Donald Gale (played by the director), a rich industrialist/environmentalist, intent on saving the Salton Sea, to protect Jennifer (Sean Young), his young beautiful, but mysterious wife, who seems to lead a double life.

Following Jennifer, Matteo is surprised to find she’s a stripper in a sleazy bar, concealing her identity under a blond wig–and a new name. Between twice saving her life–first from a sexual assault, then from a suicide attempt atop a cliff–Matteo falls in love. Later, when he can’t save Jennifer from a gruesome death in a holdup in her home, Matteo can’t help blaming himself.

Story jumps ahead to a year later, with Matteo even deeper into depression and alcoholism. One day, sitting at a bar, he spots a waitress who looks like Jennifer but claims to be a newly arrived Irish immigrant. Obsessed and still madly in love with Jennifer, he sets out to reveal the woman’s true identity and in the process finds himself in a web of corrupt schemes and lies.

Though cloning Vertigo’s chief characters and plot, the twists and turns in Andronica’s script are outrageous–as is his dialogue. Sean Young’s risible last line, “Are you going to turn me in or do we get married,” is bound to achieve high-camp status.

Under Williams’ inept direction, the tone of the romantic thriller, which is neither steamy nor suspenseful, changes from scene to scene. Pic’s last half an hour, which is accompanied by Italian-comedy like score, is particularly jarring.

With the notable exception of Olmos, who manages to keep his face straight, the acting is uniformly bad, particularly Young, whose fainting and yelling–and heavy Irish accent–are excruciatingly fake.

Shot entirely in the Palm Springs area, which is probably the reason for its inclusion in the festival, pic’s production values, especially Eckelberry’s abrupt editing and Campbell’s blatant score, are below average.

Credits

A Roadhouse, Tigertail Flicks and Shonderosa production. Produced, directed by Paul Williams. Executive producers, Robert and Barbara Rohdie, Chuck Plotkin, Wendy Brandchaft and Saul Skoler. Screenplay, James Andronica. Camera (color) and production design, Susan Emerson; editor, Stephen Eckelberry; music, David Richard Campbell; sound (Dolby), Pat Somerset; associate producer, William Grillo, Sr.; casting, Corrine Andronica. Reviewed at Palm Springs International Film Festival, Jan. 15, 1995. Running time: 106 min.

Matteo Juarez……Edward James Olmos
Lt. Richie Randazzo…James Andronica
Donald Gale…………P. W. Williams
Jennifer Gale…………..Sean Young