March 19, 1990 12:00 PM

Rob Lowe, James Spader

It strains credibility, of course, to think sweet-faced, sweet-smiling Rob Lowe (see page 58) could be a manipulative, unscrupulous guy, the sort to videotape his friends having sex. Otherwise, this is an ingratiatingly perverse, well-contoured thriller.

The obvious parallel is to Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, with Lowe insinuating himself into the confidence of Spader (sex, lies, and videotape), a wimpy investment analyst. Soon Lowe involves Spader in drug abuse, robbery, sexual adventure and murder; Spader finally realizes Lowe is a devil who’ll want his due any day.

Directed by Curtis (The Bedroom Window) Hanson and written by David (Apartment Zero) Koepp, the film is focused and internally consistent. Lowe is eerily seductive, and Spader subtly works out of his Milquetoast mode. Spader’s snively brother is nicely played by Christian (Broadcast News) Clemenson.

The movie lapses into overt philosophizing at the end, when Lowe sneers, “People are such hypocrites. They walk through their whole lives playing innocent. But they’re not innocent.” It’s only a brief sermon, though, and not wholly out of order in a film that suggests vividly how easily led into temptation we are. (R)

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