September 08, 1986 12:00 PM

As a victim of attempted rape in this film version of the William Mastrosimone play that she did off-Broadway in 1983, Farrah Fawcett is riveting. She needed to be. Despite some effective TV emoting (Murder in Texas, The Burning Bed), Fawcett saw her screen career fizzle in the four movies (Somebody Killed Her Husband, Sunburn, Saturn 3, Cannonball Run) she made after fleeing the high gloss of Charlie’s Angels. With a basically bland personality, Fawcett requires material that snaps an audience to attention. Extremities, for all its weaknesses, is no slouch at snap. Fawcett plays a woman stalked by a rapist (James Russo) who cons himself into her house, taunts her, then paws and beats her. Russo, who created the role onstage, gives an award-caliber performance. But director Robert (Short Eyes) Young’s leering camera too often substitutes sensationalism for characterization: We watch Fawcett’s nipple being bitten in closeup, her body paraded in spike heels and black negligee for a pervert’s delectation. Before Russo can proceed with the rape, Fawcett blinds him with bug spray and cages him in a fireplace. That was hard to believe onstage, harder in the movie. Spewing hatred, Fawcett is planning to bury the creep alive in the garden when her roommates walk in—Diana (Silkwood) Scarwid and Alfre (Cross Creek) Woodard. They aren’t real characters, merely mouthpieces used by Mastrosimone to debate pat moral questions about rape and vengeance. The endless argument that ensues is hogwash. So is the movie, despite strong, stinging work by Fawcett and Russo. (R)

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