Rated R - Running time: 1:35 - Released 3/6/98

From an Academy Award-winning writer/director and three Academy Award-winning actors, one would expect a better film than Twilight, in which Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, and Gene Hackman can't seem to achieve the tension that Robert Benton intended their relationships to have. This is supposed to be a steamy, sexy thriller involving a love triangle and the suspicion of a murder buried deep in the past. But flat performances and irritatingly pretentious dialogue have us checking our watches after the first half hour.

Newman plays Harry Ross, old friend of former Hollywood stars Jack and Catherine Ames (Hackman, Sarandon), a married couple who are fully aware of Harry's tender feelings toward Catherine. He's a former private investigator who has retired and seems to be working as a sort of errand boy and jack-of-all-trades for the wealthy couple. This is an appallingly menial position for his character, but perhaps he is doing it just to be close to Catherine, who enjoys a continuous cruel flirtation with him. When he's not fixing their dryer or lighting one of Catherine's numerous cigarettes, he's playing gin rummy with Jack.

When Harry attempts to deliver a message from Jack to a certain woman, he gets beaten to a pulp and left for dead, and this naturally makes him curious. So he decides to make a hobby of his old profession and check out the situation. This leads him into an extremely tangled web of intrigue involving his former partner, Verna (Stockard Channing), another old friend on the force, Raymond Hope (James Garner), and a couple of blackmailers (Margo Martindale, Liev Schreiber) who turn out to be more friendly than his friends.

Although this could be an interesting story, the performances are so low-key that they fail to illicit any significant rise of tension. Newman plays the entire movie as if he just woke up and hasn't had his morning coffee. He's supposed to be an alcoholic, but he doesn't drink any more than anyone else. Sarandon is so busy lighting cigarettes (big tobacco has scored again, obviously) that she fails at her only assignment: to be sexy. And Hackman's character isn't explored enough by the script to have him do much more than boss Harry around. The expository dialogue is so transparent that we feel we are being led by the hand. Surprisingly, the better performances here are by non-principals Martindale and Schreiber, who seem to have a lot more blood flowing through (and ultimately out of) their veins.

If this movie were cast with no-name actors or even rising stars, it would only be boring and undistinguished. But with a bill full of high-powered names like these, it's a downright disappointment. ***

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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