By
April 08, 1991 12:00 PM

Christopher Walken, Natasha Richardson

A riddle, wrapped in an enigma, sitting on a whoopee cushion full of darts, this teasingly wicked film might intrigue anyone it catches in the right mood: morbid curiosity.

Richardson and Rupert (Dance with a Stranger) Everett play an English couple on holiday in Venice, when Walken starts appearing in their lives, specter style. It sounds like Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, but that bizarro film is linear next to this backhanded tribute to sadomasochism.

Walken, smirkily playing a macho Italian, uses the same phony-baloney accent he employed in a 1990 Saturday Night Live skit about a French playboy. The affectedness adds to the eerie mood as he and his wife, Helen (The Mosquito Coast) Mirren, try to seduce Richardson and Everett.

Since the film was directed by Paul (Cat People) Schrader and written by Harold Pinter, it’s clear that you’ll get from point A to point B only via a lot of detours. Typical dialogue goes:

“I’ve been bitten,” Richardson says.

“Try not to scratch,” Everett tells her.

“You’ll have to look out for me.”

“Why, did you look out for me yesterday?”

“I’m so thirsty.”

Schrader’s camera wanders off at times to ponder walls, chairs and passersby. The light and costumes are strangely full of golds and browns. A final violent event is carried out in a surreal context.

The film ends with Walken delivering the speech he was giving as it started. Little has been established, except to confirm a principle familiar to philosophers and puppies: There’s a certain distracting comfort in chasing your tail every once in a while. (R)

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