Wicked (1998) / Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for violence, language and some sexual content              
Running Time: 88 min.

Cast: Julia Stiles, Billy Moses, Vanessa Zima, Patrick Muldoon, Louise Myrback, Michael Parks, Chelsea Field
Director:  Michael Sternberg
Screenplay: Eric Weiss

Review published March 21, 1999

Sometimes a film can do almost everything right and still come up short.  Wicked is one good example.  From the cast, to the director, to the writing, to the music, you can't really pinpoint anything that would suggest blame as to where things went wrong.  Blame can only go to the fact that as a story, Wicked just doesn't have the juice to sustain interest.

The story goes a little something like this:  Karen and Ben Christianson are stuck in a loveless marriage in a suburban neighborhood, where they live with their two precocious daughters, Ellie and Inger.  One day someone breaks into the house and Karen ends up bludgeoned to death.  Is it the housekeeper that has a thing for Ben?  Is it the loser of a neighbor who was having an affair with Karen?  Is it the eldest daughter Ellie, who wants to be daddy's girl in every possible way?

There's quite a bit to like here, with some interesting dialogue provided by screenwriter Eric Weiss, plus some stylish direction by Michael Sternberg, doing his best impression of Verhoeven doing an impression of De Palma doing an impression of Hitchcock when the thrills begin.  However, the best thing to come out of it is the terrific performance by Julia Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You), here in her first starring role.  The rest of the cast is likeable, and the film's overall comic tone makes for a quirky pleasantness that makes the film easy to watch even during the long periods when there isn't a whole lot going on. 

Wicked stays afloat most of the way until the final fifteen minute climax, where things turn a bit sour, fatally killing any chance of making this a worthwhile diversion.  There wasn't much that could have been done anyway, as things were set up in a fashion that almost any ending would probably have been a bad one, mostly because we never had a chance to care one way or another how things are resolved.

Wicked might be worth a look if you are a big fan of Julia Stiles, and even if the film is a let down, she still emerges with a winning performance.  People with low thresholds for offbeat thriller entertainment might also find it a passable, but completely unremarkable time filler.  For most others, it just isn't worth your while to sit through, due to a lackadaisical build-up and a disappointing pay off.    Decent most of the way, but Wicked needed to be less perverse and more wickedly clever.

Qwipster's rating:

1999 Vince Leo