February 05, 1990 12:00 PM

Debra Winger, Nick Nolte

If you’re baffled by this movie about a murder frame-up in a dim little Connecticut town, don’t feel alone.

Winger, as a schizophrenic hooker who may have crucial evidence that could free a convicted man, doesn’t seem to have a grip on things either. She flounces and curls her lip with a vengeance yet never seems crazy so much as just tired.

Nolte, as a private investigator coaxed into the case by Winger, doesn’t need to do so much engine revving. He mostly has to react to the bizarre goings-on around him with puzzled expressions, which must have come easy on this film.

Playwright Arthur Miller, writing his first complete movie script since 1961’s memorable The Misfits, often seems to be—to give him the benefit of a big, fat doubt—parodying absymal dialogue: “It’s the one good thing I’ve ever done. Can you understand that?” “I feel absolutely purified. I’ve never felt this clean.”

The plot loosely resembles a case in Canaan, Conn., that Miller helped reopen, but what is this movie about? Corruption, maybe? (The frame-up involves all kinds of law enforcement officials.) Illusion and reality? (Winger, wide-eyed, says, “Everything is possible and impossible at the same time.”) Religious hypocrisy? (There’s a vaguely weaselly Catholic priest and another character who is building an elaborate altar to a Civil War officer he has deified.)

Or is it maybe about inertia? Once such high-powered, high-priced people as Winger, Nolte, Miller and director Karel (Sweet Dreams, The French Lieutenant’s Woman) Reisz get involved in a project, it takes a lot of guts for someone to take stock and say, “Let’s face it, folks: This movie is going nowhere and taking 90 minutes that last an eternity to get there. There is not even a flicker of anything interesting going on. Why don’t we just write this off and all go find some useful work?” (R)

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