August 10, 1981 12:00 PM

In his most ambitious film, writer-director Brian (Carrie, Dressed to Kill) De Palma seizes the audience’s attention from the opening frame and holds it until the final goose bump. If the title recalls Antonioni’s 1966 film, it’s no accident. Instead of a photographer stumbling on the Blow-Up murder in a London park, De Palma’s story focuses on sound effects technician John Travolta, who witnesses what may be a political killing on a deserted bridge near downtown Philadelphia. There are echoes of Chappaquiddick as Travolta rescues Nancy Allen from a rapidly submerging car. Then Travolta and Allen team up to unravel the mystery. The plot doesn’t bear scrutiny; both Travolta and Allen take inexplicable chances. Character development is chucked in a movie like this, too. But Travolta provides a disciplined performance as an innocent man caught in a conspiracy—a situation used so well by Hitchcock, whose influence permeates De Palma’s films. Allen (Mrs. De Palma) serves up a cut-rate version of her high-class hooker in Dressed to Kill. If De Palma stretches credibility and indulges in visual excess, he should be forgiven. He has as much panache and imagination as any filmmaker in America today. (R)

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