Picks and Pans Review: To Die for
Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, Joaquin Phoenix
Kidman plays a ruthless but clueless young woman who fancies herself the next Jane Pauley. The local TV weather person in a small New Hampshire town, she performs before her map with all the poise of a majorette twirling a flaming baton on an ice floe. She is also making an inane documentary about a trio of subliterate high school students, one of whom (Phoenix, brother of the late River) is dangerously infatuated with her. But this pathetic woman knows she is on her way to the top. The only obstacle, as far she can see, is her old-fashioned husband (Dillon), who thinks she should be content to help out at his family’s restaurant. He’ll have to go.
As a black comedy about some Americans’ pathological lust for fame, To Die For, directed by Gus Van Sant, may not have the consistent cold gleam of The King of Comedy, Martin Scorsese’s 1983 classic about a would-be stand-up comic who kidnaps a talk show host, but it’s bracingly nasty, even so. This has more to do with Buck Henry’s admirably heartless script than with Kidman’s brittle, one-note performance. But the rest of the cast is terrific, especially Illeana Douglas, as Kidman’s suspicious sister-in-law, and the heartbreakingly miserable Phoenix, who looks like a voodoo doll of Christopher Walken. (R)