(director: Harold Becker; screenwriters: Aaron Sorkin/Scott Frank/story by Jonas McCord & Aaron Sorkin; cinematographer: Gordon Willis; editor: David Bretherton; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Bill Pullman(Andy Sarafian), Nicole Kidman (Tracy Sarafian), Alec Baldwin (Dr. Jed Hill), George C. Scott (Dr. Kessler), Peter Gallagher (Riley), Anne Bancroft (Ms. Kennsinger), Bebe Neuwirth (Dana), Gwyneth Paltrow (Paula Bell), Josef Sommer (Lester Adams); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Rachel Pfeffer/Charles Mulvehill/Harold Becker; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (New Line); 1993)
As easy to take as a college course in basket-weaving.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Harold Becker(“City Hall”/”Mercury Rising”/”The Onion Field”) ably directs this well-crafted derivative suspense tale. The over-heated thriller offers no challenges, but is a good watch. It’s set at a New England college (shot at Amherst). It’s based on a story by Jonas McCord and Aaron Sorkin. The polished but wavering screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin and Scott Frank.

In a serene women’s college town in Massachusetts, Tracy and Andy Sarafian (NicoleKidman and Bill Pullman) are newly-weds at work restoring their Victorian mansion dream house. The not too bright but likable Andy is dean and teaches English, while Tracy is a volunteer worker at the hospital’s day-care center. When Andy meets a hot-shot friend from high school, the newly arrived surgeon, the arrogant but brilliant and charismatic Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin), the star-struck Andy rents him space on the third floor of his house. Meanwhile a serial rapist has alarmed the college community by viciously attacking several students and everyone is on high alert.

Plot and character twists begin when Hill performs an emergency operation on Tracy, that saves her life but in the process she cannot have children. That deeply effects her, since that is what she most wants from her marriage. This turn of events touches on such issues as doctor and patient relationships, but without following through to say anything worthwhile. From hereon, the well-acted thriller becomes merely an entertaining escapist film as it remains superficial. “Malice” should remind the alert viewer of films such as “Marnie” and “Pacific Heights.” It builds suspense by keeping the killer rapist unknown, with the Alec Baldwin character the viewer’s main suspect. It also throws in a fair share of misleading red-herrings.

There are many plot holes and improbabilities over plot reversals that are bothersome, but might bother some more than others. If you can accept these flaws, the slick thriller, though undistinguished, is as easy to take as a college course in basket-weaving.

Peter Gallagher excellently plays an unctuous lawyer (are there other kinds!). George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft have brief but memorable cameos.