December 05, 1988 12:00 PM

Who says looks aren’t everything? They are in this picture. If Michelle (Married to the Mob) Pfeiffer, Mel (Lethal Weapon) Gibson and Kurt (Overboard) Russell weren’t around to distract with their screen-scorching sex appeal, there would be little left to discuss but this crime thriller’s perplexing plot, contrived characters and murky motivations. Instead, we get a dazzling display of star power in action. Pfeiffer, gifted with talent, wit and jaw-dropping beauty, is sensational as the owner of a swank Italian restaurant in L.A. Gibson plays her most loyal customer. A divorced father and reformed drug dealer, he’s waiting to make his move on Pfeiffer until he has completely extricated himself from a life of crime. But there is still some unfinished business to clear up with a drug kingpin, noxiously overdone by Raul (Moon over Parador) Julia. Enter Russell. He’s Gibson’s high school buddy; also the cop in charge of L.A.’s drug-busting program. Russell dates Pfeiffer to get at Gibson; he suspects the two are in league. He’s wrong. But by the time he’s convinced of her innocence, she has learned that he has been using her and she dumps him. That’s when she falls for Gibson, who finds it might be too late to go straight. Got that? It’s appalling to see this pro forma Miami Vice pap coming from writer-director Robert (Personal Best) Towne. His justly acclaimed scripts for Chinatown and Shampoo raise great expectations for this tale. Better lower them—it’s more fun that way—and settle for an effective crime-film atmosphere (in the ’40s style of Bogie and Bacall’s The Big Sleep) and glamorous casting that create a seductive blend of action and romance. Gibson manages to be both ardent and amusing, qualities that go far in redeeming his sleazy character. Russell, freed from the restrictions of Goldie Hawn ding-a-ling comedies, realizes the dramatic potential he showed in Silk-wood. His confession of love to Pfeiffer, no slouch at heartbreak herself, has the urgency of a torch song. Noel Coward once said, “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.” The same goes for movies. (R)

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