September 18, 1989 12:00 PM

Ellen Barkin, Al Pacino

Playing a New York cop is no big career switch for Pacino, and serial-killer films aren’t a new form. But there are enough clever variations and Barkin slinks around so provocatively that this movie supplies 113 minutes of respectable diversion.

Screenwriter Richard (The Color of Money) Price turns some lines quite neatly. When Pacino discovers someone is murdering a series of womanizing men. he describes the acts as “the Evelyn Wood School of speed revenge.” Pacino’s romantic pursuit of Barkin is understandably confused: She’s his prime suspect. But it’s tough swallowing such lines as “I need for you to lie down with me. Otherwise I’ll walk the streets all night.” Pacino also has a strange scene where, suddenly stricken with the conviction that Barkin is the killer, he hops around hysterically, as if he were doing early Jerry Lewis.

Price and director Harold (The Boost) Becker do better by John Goodman, of TV’s Roseanne. He plays a detective who teams up with Pacino, and his jovial style plays effectively against Pacino’s chronically tense, neurotic New Yorker acting.

The technique used to track down the killer sets up some novel scenes too. Pacino and Goodman place a personal ad—modeled on ads placed by the victims—and date the women who answer. One whom Pacino meets is Patricia (Twilight Zone—The Movie) Barry. Her chagrin at being a lonely older woman is touching, and Pacino’s gentle response gives his character needed depth.

Most of the time the characters behave with less sensitivity, but the sort-of-surprise ending is slickly done, and Pacino, for whom it has been a long time between hits, comes out this time with a fighting chance. (R)

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