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EQUINOX(director/writer: Alan Rudolph; cinematographer: Elliot Davis; editor: Michael Ruscio; cast: Matthew Modine (Freddy Ace/Henry Petosa), Lara Flynn Boyle (Beverly), Fred Ward (Paris), Tyra Ferrell (Sonya Kirk), Marisa Tomei (Rosie), Lori Singer (Sharon Ace), M. Emmett Walsh (Pete Petosa), Kevin J. O’Connor (Russell), Tate Donovan (Richie),Vincent Curto (gangster), Robert Gould (Mel), Matthew Dudley (pimp); Runtime: 110; Metro Tartan/SC Entertainment; 1992)
“It is an original film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Alan (Trouble in Mind, Choose Me, Moderns) Rudolph’soff-beat film has the look and feel of bad melodrama. It uses over exaggerated action sequences to spin a convoluted yarn (maybe a parody) about twins born to a ballerina who had an affair with a European aristocrat. The ballerina is forced into giving them up for adoption when the father wants no part of them.

They are separated at birth, taking different paths in life, not aware of each other even existing: Henry Petosa (Matthew Modine) grows up to be a shy, nerdy, fearful garage mechanic who works in his adopted father’s garage (M. Emmett Walsh). Henry doesn’t know that he’s adopted, and he spends his spare time watching self-defense programs on TV and pining for his best friend Russell’s emotionally insecure sister, Beverly (Lara Flynn Boyle). Beverly reads Emily Dickenson out loud to herself. Henry lives in a tenement located in a bad neighborhood.

Henry’s unknown brother, Freddy Ace, also played by Modine, is a small time hood, ambitiously working himself up the ladder of the protection racket run by a vicious hood, Mr. Paris (Fred Ward). Freddy does the driving and also is a cold-blooded hit man. He is attired with a perfectly moussed-hairstyle and is married to a beautiful but shallow woman (Lori Singer), having two children and living in a luxurious apartment; all Freddy’s possessions are status symbols, which show him that he has come a long way from the orphanage he was raised in.

An old bag lady with a tattoo on her arm, saying “To my dearest Helena,” dies on the streets of some fictionalized city clutching a letter stating that she is the mother of twins and that the father of the children left $200,000 (it is now worth 4 million dollars) for them in a Swiss trust fund that can only be accessed by the password “equinox.” The title of the film as defined, will refer to the equality of the light and dark sides during an equinox (also the good and bad twins).

The letter is found by an ambitious hospital worker, Sonya Kirk (uninterestedly played by Tyra), who aspires to be a writer and thinks this will make a great story. She weaves this ambiguous tale or spoof, or whatever it is, together. As all the quirky characters will somehow fit into the story and by the end of the film, I guess, there is supposed to be some hidden message as Henry stands alone looking down at the tremendous depths of the Grand Canyon.

There was also a ridiculous scene with a hooker named Rosie (Tomei), who lives in Henry’s tenement and is being abused by her pimp (Dudley). She will service Henry as a payment for watching her baby. There was one stupid line she said to him that made me laugh primarily because it was so stupid, “You’re not going to catch nothing from me but your breath.”

In fact, the only enjoyment I derived from all the banal dialogue was the one-liners that kept coming throughout: Freddy to another gangster, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” One gangster talking to another, “I was so popular in high school, everybody hated me.” Mr. Petosa offers two one-liners from his vaudeville shtick he seemed to be doing for his characterization, “If money didn’t grow on trees, how come banks have so many branches?” and “Chaste makes waste.” Henry tritely says, “My whole life seems to be taking place without me in it.” Freddy, when asked if he is happy, replies, “I’d be a lot happier with a million bucks and a full tank of gas.” Paris says to Freddy after he knocks off their associate, Richie (Tate): “Richie had no brains, and he was stupid.” Beverly says to Henry, which happens to be the most pertinent line in the film: “Your whole life is searching for one thing, and all that other stuff just fades away.”

I don’t know what the story is supposed to mean; maybe it’s just a search-for-identity kind of film; maybe it’s an updated fairytale about “The Prince and the Pauper,” as one noted film critic suggests. But I found it to be muddled, unfunny except in an idiotic way, and the acting lame, especially from Matthew Modine. But there was something intangible about the film that made me keep watching it, hoping there was something there that I missed. In any case, it is an original film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”