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(2000) (Ewan McGregor, Ashley Judd) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A surveillance expert's obsession with his latest assignment, a murderous, disguise-laden woman, becomes increasingly dangerous as he progressively becomes more involved in her life.
A British intelligence agent, known only as "The Eye" (EWAN McGREGOR), is an expert at surveillance. Assigned to track a possible embezzler, The Eye instead begins to follow Joanna Eris (ASHLEY JUDD), a mysterious woman who murders that man. Getting help from Hilary (K.D. LANG), his contact back at headquarters, The Eye trails this woman, watching and listening to her every move.

Although is work is solitary, The Eye isn't alone as he's often accompanied by visions and/or hallucinations of his long-lost daughter, Lucy (ANN-MARIE BROWN, KAITLIN BROWN) with whom he casually interacts. The Eye isn't a happy man, assuming all blame for the loss of his wife and daughter, but he's good at what he does and continues his surveillance of Joanna.

As such, he finds himself on a cross-country pursuit of her as she travels from city to city, always assuming a new look and identity. Learning of her criminal past, The Eye visits her former mentor, Dr. Brault (GENEVIEVE BUJOLD), while Joanna takes up with several men, including Alexander Leonard (PATRICK GERGIN), a blind vineyardist, and Gary (JASON PRIESTLEY), a sadistic druggie.

Despite her murderous ways, The Eye finds himself increasingly becoming obsessed with Joanna and soon begins intervening in her life, repeatedly preventing her from being captured by the police who are also now on her trail. As the surveillance expert becomes progressively more involved in Joanna's life, he opens himself up to the possibility of facing the wrath of black widow type ways.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
A general rule of thumb - at least as far as movies are concerned - is that any particular film of a given genre should contain elements commonly associated with that type of picture. As such, comedies should be funny and horror films scary, while romantic comedies should contain equal amounts of romance and humor, just as suspense thrillers should contain something suspenseful or that will thrill audiences.

Those films that meet or excel at such material requirements are usually well received and remembered, while those that aren't fade from the public's collective consciousness forever. "Eye of the Beholder," despite its intentions, falls into that latter category. Neither particularly suspenseful nor scary, the film does offer a moderately intriguing premise, but can't do much with it.

The thought of a surveillance expert becoming obsessed and infatuated with his dangerous subject certainly presents a decent amount of potential. Yet, it constantly and ultimately fails to take advantage of that scenario and/or deliver any sort of payoff worth the audience's time spent waiting for something decent to develop.

Based on Marc Behm's 1980 novel of the same name, the film contains a decent collection of interesting elements that nearly always seem to be leading up to something grand or shocking, but which never occurs. For starters, the protagonist, intriguingly played by Ewan McGregor, progressively gets too involved in watching and then protecting the troubled femme fatale - embodied by the sultry Ashley Judd - who has a nasty, black widow type habit of dispatching any males she encounters. Despite this setup, the film never elicits any feelings of worry for the agent, nor any fun and wary interaction between the two such as occurred in a film like "Basic Instinct."

Far more compelling, however, is the whole bit about the absorbed detective being "haunted" by visions of his daughter with whom he converses and interacts during his stakeouts. We initially don't know if she's a supernatural apparition that's truly haunting him or whether he's just gone crazy. Either way, we're instantly intrigued and want to know more about this girl and how she relates to her father's current case, particularly since the little girl repeatedly tells him not to leave her, that's she just a little girl.

Unfortunately, there isn't any true connection and we eventually assume, of course, that the girl's simply referring to herself. Despite a nebulous moment where a blurred image of her appears in one of her father's surveillance photos, nothing about this ever amounts to anything and never comes off as appropriately spooky as one might expect. Then, part way through the film, the apparition announces that she's going to leave and do so, never to reappear again, leaving the audience to ponder writer/director Stephan Elliot's ("The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert") inclusion of that character.

Of course, we're supposed to guess/assume that "The Eye's" obsession with Joanna supplants that regarding his "long lost" daughter, but the result is that we feel somewhat cheated out of the related payoff that never occurs. Instead, the film turns into something of a travelogue as the two central characters zip around the country from D.C. to San Francisco, New York to Alaska, and plenty of places in between as if they were travel writers by trade.

Although the initial use of snow shakers from the various locales is somewhat clever as they replace the usual location identifying subtitles, that approach gets a bit tiring after a while. As does all of the traveling that never really amounts to anything and causes the film to feel like a poor man's James Bond flick - what with all of the non-exotic locales and British Intelligence surveillance gadgets.

With the film being all mood, atmosphere and style, but not much else, Elliot doesn't do much with the plot or characters to make the film particularly intriguing beyond the viewer's continual bewilderment about how and when anything and everything will eventually culminate.

As such, the performers, while for the most part decently playing their parts, can't overcome the script that's eventually a whole lot of something about nothing. That said, Ewan McGregor ("Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace," "Trainspotting") makes an interesting, somewhat roguish and definitely flawed Bond like character, although we never get into his persona enough to really empathize with him.

It's also a bit difficult -- notwithstanding his comments about sensing that Joanna needs his help and that he's not going to let this one get away like his former wife -- to completely buy into and/or understand his motivation about becoming so obsessed with her. As such, it often feels more like a convenient plot device than a natural development and that nagging disbelief certainly doesn't help the film.

As his sultry and murderous counterpart, Ashley Judd ("Double Jeopardy," "Simon Birch") does a decent job playing the extremely troubled woman. Yet, despite some tidbits of back-story that are supposed to explain her behavior and motivations, or her habit of sobbing after brutally killing people, we don't ever really understand or sympathize with her either.

Supporting performances are okay, but certainly not outstanding, with Genevieve Bujold ("Anne of a Thousand Days") playing Joanna's mysterious mentor, Patrick Bergin ("Sleeping With the Enemy") as her blind suitor, pop star k.d. Lang as The Eye's headquarters' contact, and Jason Priestley (TV's "Beverly Hills 90210") embodying a less than gentlemanly fellow.

Technical efforts fare better, with cinematographer Guy Dufaux's ("Polish Wedding") camera work properly eliciting the proper unsettling and off-balance mood, and composer Marius De Vries's ("Romeo + Juliet") score having a similar effect. Even so, their efforts only add to the film's overall problem of building up expectations and then not delivering on them.

If viewers are anything like me, they'll be sitting there waiting and wondering when everything will come together, but will then be disappointed when nothing that spectacular ever occurs. While others might not have any problem with that, I wasn't happy to have invested my time and attention into something that teases with the goods, but never ultimately delivers them. As such, "Eye of the Beholder" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed January 24, 2000 / Posted January 28, 2000

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