Spader salvages a perfect bore

THE NOTION of perfection - as in the perfect spouse, the perfect career, the perfect house, the perfect child, the perfect body - lies at the heart of "Dream Lover," a new drama starring James Spader and "Twin Peaks" alumna Madchen Amick. Unfortunately, "Dream Lover" is a very imperfect movie. It's sabotaged by sluggish pacing, compromised by poor casting and discredited by a fussy plot littered with extraneous details.

Other than that, it's pretty good.

Or, rather, Spader - who is forging an intriguing career playing perfect-looking yuppies at odds with the world - is good. With his translucent blond handsomeness and expressive face, Spader registers bewilderment, longing, anger and detachment - sometimes all at once. His performance is the sole reason to see the movie.

By and large, "Dream Lover" - written by "Reversal of Fortune" screenwriter Nicholas Kazan and helmed by Kazan in his first stab at directing - is generic flash 'n' trash. It looks great with its beautiful leads, hard-edged '90s office and home sets, and glossy cinematography, but - to borrow an old expression - deep down, it's shallow. Moreover, Amick's brief frontal nudity establishes that the sexual double standard is alive and well; Spader doesn't flash a comparable expanse of skin.

Spader portrays Ray Reardon, a prosperous, 30ish architect who has just emerged from a failed first marriage. He meets the sleek, stunning Lena Mathers (Amick, competent but never inspired) at a tony party, bumps into her later at a supermarket and promptly asks her out. Before you can say boy meets girl, they become an item, marry and have kids.

Unbeknownst to Ray, girl has trapped boy. In fact, girl has constructed a malicious, elaborate ruse, fabricating her identity and secretly meeting one of Ray's male friends for sweaty trysts in a pricey hotel, even as she lives off of Ray's riches. So clever is her trap that when Ray finally catches on, loses it and slugs Lena, she has him committed to a mental hospital.

When Ray is committed (maybe 80 percent of the way into the movie), "Dream Lover's" somnolent pace quickens. But by that time, viewers will be hard-pressed to wake up. The movie takes much too long to establish its premise. The clever ending, which might have worked had it come 20 minutes sooner, is wasted.

Most ill-advised of all are recurring fantasy scenes set in a mocking carnival that punctuate the story. Evidently inserted to make the movie look arty and "surreal" - much as Amick's sex scenes and unexplained references to her character's bruised body are inserted to suggest kink - they succeed mostly in making the movie feel like dime-store Fellini. Movie Review "Dream Lover"

© David Armstrong, 06 May 1994, San Francisco Examiner (Thank you, Susan!)