- The Washington Times - Friday, January 28, 2000

''I think this is a very sick scenario," remarks a character in the last-gasp episodes of the pitifully bughouse mystery and chase thriller "Eye of the Beholder." The scenario revolves around a very sick puppy of a protagonist: Ewan McGregor as a solitary and evidently delusionary surveillance agent for the British Secret Service.

This wretch is known only by the code name "Eye" and operates out of shadowy, unstable American locations. Washington is a preliminary setting within a hot-potato itinerary that simulates New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Death Valley and Alaska while leapfrogging and lurching about. Since the production was based in Montreal, most of the fleeting, far-flung backgrounds were entrusted to stock shots or computer graphics.

Co-star Ashley Judd is becoming a mirthful fixture of ridiculous thrillers almost their habitual patsy, as a matter of fact. She now underlines her naivete as the apple of Eye's obsessive gaze: a femme fatale called Joanna Eris, first encountered luring the alleged son of the hero's alleged boss into a murder trap a trap so bloody that the naked perp, Joanna, must bathe in a convenient and atmospheric downpour to wash away the telltale stains.

It becomes apparent that Eye's failure to apprehend Joanna in this moment of weakness must tell us something. And so it does, particularly about the mental and stylistic abstraction that director Stephan Elliott intends to exaggerate. He goes whole hog, orchestrating an early-year fiasco that should win "Eye of the Beholder" just as much mockery as "In Dreams," Neil Jordan's fiasco for Annette Bening, provoked at approximately the same time last year.

The most plausible alternative in "Eye of the Beholder" is that everything seen and heard is delusionary: a figment of the sick puppy's feverish, disintegrating imagination. It's the sort of movie in which no specific reality can ever be trusted or confirmed. The problem with such pretexts, even when they're brilliantly done, is that they're also a portentous pain. Unlike, say, Alan Parker's "Angel Heart," Mr. Elliott's brainstorm never labors under an ambivalent burden of morbid stylistic brilliance. "Beholder" is just a stinker with blundering affectations.

A telecommuting spook equipped with numerous electronic accessories, including a car that displays exotic surveillance doodads, Eye isn't quite solitary. He kibitzes with an imaginary playmate named Lucy, possibly the ghost of a lost daughter. According to Hilary, the Secret Service telephone contact who communicates with Eye (a facetiously "normal" role for singer K.D. Lang ), a wife and child "went AWOL" somewhere in Eye's murky past.

It's a matter of systematically enigmatic, self-defeating confusion whether anything of an authentic biographical nature should be ascribed to the psychotic Eye and the dishy object of his obsession. Mr. Elliott, the Australian who made his debut on the farcically flamboyant "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," is content to leave every sequence in a menacing or calamitous shambles. This approach guarantees a pointless and trifling mystery fable.

Movies / Gary Arnold

No stars

TITLE: "Eye of the Beholder"

RATING: R (Frequent graphic violence, with stabbings preferred; occasional profanity, nudity and sexual vulgarity)

CREDITS: Directed by Stephan Elliott. Screenplay by Mr. Elliott, based on a novel by Marc Behm.

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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