Two years before he let it all hang out in Boogie Nights, former rapper and Calvin Klein underwear model Mark Wahlberg played the psychotic boyfriend in this derivative but surprisingly effective thriller, aptly described by producer Brian Grazer as "Fatal Attraction for teens." Reese Witherspoon plays Nicole Walker, the unwitting teenager who gets the hots for David McCall (Wahlberg). David only seems like a nice guy until he gets upset by the girl's overly protective father. That's when hell breaks loose and the love-struck Romeo turns into a deadly threat who just won't go away. You'd think this kind of material would be beneath the talents of a fine director like James Foley (whose credits include At Close Range and Glengarry Glen Ross), but Foley gives the film just the right blend of style and tension to match Wahlberg's breakthrough role as an all-too-believable teenage maniac. You might feel silly afterwards, but don't be surprised if you find yourself getting caught up in the expertly manipulative suspense. --Jeff Shannon
James Spader stars as Joel Campbell, a former detective traumatized by the death of his lover at the hands of a serial killer he'd been hunting--a psychopath who has taken their combative relationship a little too personally, and has now tracked the retired Campbell down in Chicago. The killer, who methodically studies his victims before killing them, starts sending Campbell photographs of prospective victims and gives him a day to find them before they're killed. Campbell rises to the challenge, returns to his role as detective, and launches a comprehensive manhunt for the killer and the women in the photographs. The Watcher is surprisingly watchable--though it does suffer from an excessive use of arty cinematography. But while the psychological interpretation of the killer's behavior is a little too schematic to be convincing, the portrayal of Campbell is quite strong, particularly due to Spader's performance. A much-underrated actor, Spader is lean and efficient in his portrayal, rarely given to flashy histrionics, but compelling and emotionally complex. Unfortunately, the killer is played by Keanu Reeves; and though Reeves isn't as terrible an actor as some critics may say, he's out of his depth here. Still, Spader carries most of the movie, and the sequences in which the police are trying to track down the victims are nicely suspenseful--in fact, the movie is overall more interested in suspense than gore, making it a pleasant change from most contemporary thrillers. Also starring Marisa Tomei as Campbell's psychiatrist and budding romantic interest. --Bret Fetzer
In this wicked thriller from 1992, director Brian De Palma shamelessly borrows from Alfred Hitchcock (as usual) and several other filmmakers to create a shock-a-thon that plays like a film buff's highlight reel from a dozen different thrillers. Taken on those terms it's a lot of fun to watch (though not for the faint-hearted), and multiple maniac roles for John Lithgow make it an irresistible shocker that isn't afraid to wallow in its own excess. Lithgow not only plays the evil Dr. Carter Nix, who is performing strange experiments on children, but he also plays the doctor's twin sons, Josh and Cain, who kidnap kids and bring them to their father's laboratory. Lolita Davidovich is a mother whose child has been abducted, but she won't give up without a fight. If this sounds repulsive, rest assured that De Palma focuses on the battle between the mother and the nefarious twins (this isn't a film about gratuitous child abuse), and film students will delight in the allusions to Hitchcock, Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, and Orson Welles's Touch of Evil, among others. It never makes much sense or adds up to anything truly satisfying, but thanks to Lithgow's wild performances Raising Cain is the kind of over-the-top thriller that grabs you for 95 minutes and holds you in its entertaining grip. --Jeff Shannon
A Kiss Before Dying
Matt Dillon, Sean Young and Max Von Sydow star in this chilling romantic thriller from writer-director James Dearden (Fatal Attraction). Troubled by the death of her twin sister, Ellen Carlson (Young) unwittingly falls in love with an ambitious young man, Jonathan Corliss (Dillon). As she investigates Dorothy's death, a chance encounter reveals how little Ellen really knows about her husband, and what she doesn't know may kill her in this heart-stopping suspense thriller based on Ira Levin's best-selling novel.
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