By People Staff
August 03, 1992 12:00 PM

Jack Nicholson, Ellen Barkin

This dismal black comedy, the tale of an unlikely romance between Nicholson, a mangy dog trainer struggling with wife and money troubles, and Barkin, a cultured, newly divorced classical music singer, is flatter than Roseanne Arnold’s notorious version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”—and just as painful to sit through.

The convoluted plot has Barkin and Nicholson coming together when she, having been threatened by an unknown assailant, buys an attack dog from him. An inveterate womanizer, Nicholson puts the make on her first out of habit and then because he is being paid to do so by a Howard Hughes-type billionaire (Harry Dean Stanton) who wants Nicholson to snatch back from Barkin an embarrassing tell-all manuscript left in her care. The manuscript was written by Barkin’s floozy sister (Beverly D’Angelo), with whom Stanton has had an affair.

Not that viewers will care tremendously about any of this. Scenes that are supposed to play funny don’t, such as those in which Nicholson and his Asian-born wife, Lauren (Cadillac Man) Tom, whom he insists on calling “Iwo Jima,” meet with a touchy-feely marriage counselor; scenes that are supposed to terrorize, such as the one in which a black-hooded figure swings an ax at Barkin, don’t have any impact either. It all just seems choppy, sloppy and stupefying. It’s as if everyone involved simply threw up their hands and said, “Let’s just finish the damned thing and move on.” This is all the sadder since director Bob Rafelson, screenwriter Carole Eastman and Nicholson were the moving forces behind Five Easy Pieces, one of the best movies of the early ’70s.

Although Nicholson ekes a limp chuckle or two out of such double entendre lines as “These guys look upon a woman as an object, but I look upon a woman as a whole,” he seems alternately muted and over the top (even by his own fairly extravagant standards), mussing his hair and waving his arms frantically, as if he were Leonard Bernstein conducting the Fidelio overture. Barkin appears not to have a clue as to who her character is—the script certainly offers no help—and settles for acting like the dimmest bulb to come down the General Electric assembly line in years. The skilled supporting cast, which includes Veronica Cartwright, Saul Rubinek and Michael McKean as well as D’Angelo and Stanton, is largely wasted. This dog could have profiled substantially from some more training. (PG-13)