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by: Michael Dequina

Beauty may be in the Eye of the Beholder, but a dud is a dud, regardless of the perspective. And this long-delayed thriller (it bears a telling 1998 copyright) is unmistakably such a failure, rendered even more disappointing by the level of talent aboard and the amount of promise evident in its earliest stages.

A wan Ewan McGregor portrays the nameless "Eye," a British intelligence agent who becomes dangerously attracted to an alluring young woman named Joanna Eris (Ashley Judd, looking great and dong nothing more) who also happens to be a vicious serial killer of men. Make that "obsessed," for soon the Eye leaves behind genuine surveillance missions in favor of watching the fetching femme fatale 24-7, shadowing her every move. He does not so much want to have Joanna as he wants to "keep" her--he not only watches her, he looks after her, in a sense protecting her as a perverse type of guardian angel.

Writer-director Stephan Elliott, working from the basis of Marc Behm's novel of the same name, has a hypnotic visual style that serves the dark atmosphere of obsession well, particularly in the opening stages. The tricks, such slow motion and complex dissolves, have a sensual quality that give the film an enticing erotic kick. One scene where the Eye caresses a wall that separates him and a bathing Joanna has a subdued but no less electric sexuality.

What ultimately fails Elliott is his writing. After establishing the voyeuristic premise, the film gradually unravels and makes less and less sense. Much of this has to do with Elliott's need to make Joanna more than a chic murderess; he wants to make her a wounded soul with deep-seated psychological reasons for her psychosis. Not a bad idea, but when the reasons are so murky as to make very little sense, it makes for a source of needless confusion. Elliott is a little more successful on the Eye's end; suffering from the loss of his wife and especially his daughter, he has a recurring hallucination of his daughter (played by twins Ann-Marie and Kaitlin Brown), but this conceit is dropped without explanation somewhere along the line.

The supporting characters get even worse treatment. Geneviève Bujold plays Joanna's former mentor, who figures into the muddled explanation of Joanna's behavior, meaning her character doesn't make that much sense, either. Patrick Bergin is dull as a wealthy blind vintner to whom Joanna attaches herself; I'm not so sure if we're meant to think that she truly falls for him or not, for there is little in the way of writing or chemistry to shed any added light. A dirty and bleached-blond Jason Priestley wanders in from a different movie as a violent drifter; and the no-frills role of Hilary, the Eye's sole contact to the outside world, is done in by an awkward performance by k.d. lang.

But nothing in Eye of the Beholder is so awkward as the film becomes as the Eye follows Joanna all across the country, collecting snow globes in each city and watching, watching, and watching. Although very little, if any, tension and suspense is built, all the waiting and watching makes one anticipate some type of a payoff, but there isn't one; there isn't really an ending, per se, so much as a stoppage. Perhaps Elliott was trying to make a point about the futility of voyeurism, and if that's the case, it backfires, for it brings to light how much of a waste watching Eye of the Beholder is.

RATING: * (out of *****)

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