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APARTMENTZERO (director/writer: Martin Donovan; screenwriters: David Koepp/story by Martin Donovan; cinematographer: Miguel Rodriguez; editor: Conrad M. Gonzalez; music: Elia Cmiral; cast: Colin Firth (Adrian LeDuc), Hart Bochner (Jack Carney), Dora Bryan (Margaret McKinney), Liz Smith (Mary Louise McKinney), James Telfer (Vanessa), Fabrizio Bentivoglio (Carlos Sanchez-Verne), Mirella D’Angelo (Laura Werpachowsky), Francesca d’Aloja (Claudia), Cipe Lincovsky (Mrs. Treniev); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating:NR; producers: Martin Donovan/David Koepp; Fox Lorber; 1988)
It remains intriguing even when it sort of derails in the final reel.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Argentinian-born director Martin Donovan(“Mad at the Moon”/”State of Wonder”/”Somebody is Waiting”) directs this well-conceived psychological thriller, that’s inspired by Polanski’s The Tenant. It’s based on a story by Donovan and cowritten by him and David Koepp. It remains intriguing even when it sort of derails in the final reel (it takes a leap of faith to trust that all the over-the-top violent incidents could actually happen). It offers a lot to mull over–including a scene of a crazed mamma’s boy talking to a dead companion that could have been right out of Psycho. Unfortunately it never becomes completely fulfilling to be a great film, even though it shows promise. It works best as a perverse flick that tackles things that remain unsettling, that probably becomes too unpleasant a watch for the commercial film crowd and might not be arty enough for the modest viewing arthouse crowd. But film buffs should love it, as well as lovers of edgy aesthetic films and those sensitive to how gays are portrayed.

It opens with a scene from Touch of Evil, which immediately got my attention, and throughout it offers a cinema trivia quiz (my favorite question was, in what movie did Yul Brynner, Edward G. Robinson and Vincent Price appear in together?). The answer was The Ten Commandments.

Adrian LeDuc (Colin Firth) is an Argentine born but English speaking, educated in England, owner of a cinema in Buenos Aires, that shows only the oldie classics. The revival theater is doing a poor business and the lonely, sexually repressed, paranoid, neurotic, film snob, Adrian, whose frail elderly mother he depends on for emotional support is dying in an expensive nursing home (which he has a tough time meeting the bills) and is unable to communicate with him, which has him becoming unhinged. This leads the apolitical, unliked, compulsive neat-freak and anti-social introvert to advertise in the newspapers for a roommate to share the expenses in his spacious luxury apartment and keep him company. A bunch of people answer the ad, but Adrian chooses the extroverted handsome American, Jack Carney (Hart Bochner), a jock type who appears in jeans and T-shirts and is noted by the landlord to have “that certain James Dean je ne sais quoi.” Carney tells Adrian he’s here on an exchange program and works as a computer programmer. The pathetic Adrian immediately takes to Jack, and is soon doing his laundry and acting subservient to him in the hopes he won’t be deserted.

While Adrian shuns the friendly but inquisitive neighbors and is disliked by them, Jack becomes popular with them after rescuing a cat from a hallway ledge, always making small talk with a few of the elderly ladies, making everyone feel good by listening to them, using his charm to seduce both the men and women in the building, and even acting as a protector to a neighbor transvestite under attack.

The newspaper headlines tell us a gruesome serial killer, with probably political motivations, is on the loose in the city. The killer is a remorseless Jack, who is a mercenary assassin for a right-wing terrorist group associated with a death squad. The question becomes how Adrian reacts when his mother dies and he suspects that Jack has not told the truth about himself.

It’s heady melodramatics mixed in with a number of clever plot twists, and is tinged with existential airs and an undeveloped political scenario that’s mood changing (not a particularly good thing for the film, as it recharges the movie with violence one would expect from a crime pic). The ambitious stylish film, that wants to be more than a thriller, has a lot going for it even if it overreaches; such as, sustaining a spellbinding creepiness, giving one a feeling that it’s onto worldly things with its perceptive observations, offering a delicious spicy script and a delirious plot line that holds one’s attention, and it brings on many amusing droll tidbits (such as a cabbie turning down a fare who wants him to follow somebody–a reaction not often seen in thriller movies).

It’s the kind of film that’s both derivative and fresh, that looks like a foreign film even if it’s in English and offers a memorable chilling portrait of how Americans are perceived abroad as paid killers for the powerful.

The director shortened the film by eight minutes for its DVD release.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”