- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2000

''The In Crowd," which opened Wednesday without the nuisance of press screenings, is about as feeble as a would-be prurient murder thriller should be permitted to get. It may have trouble cracking the late-night cable lineups on weekends. The level of professionalism is incomparable, but there isn't remotely enough nudity to make the cut unless, of course, there's a special cable version lurking in the outtakes.

Sort of a no-talent variation on "Wild Things," this insincere and useless fable about the pitfalls of coping with wealth, beauty and psychosis insinuates poor girl Adrien Williams (Lori Heuring), fresh out of a mental asylum, into the country-club set allegedly dominated by rich girl Brittany Foster (Susan Ward), possibly a mental case in her own right.

A strange solicitude, easy to confuse with lesbian flirtation, prompts overprivileged but brunet Brittany to recruit Adrien, a blond yet lowly staffer, as a social intimate, mingling with the guests at private parties of the young and dissolute. Nothing wholesome comes of this association.

Adrien is introduced as a potential risk to herself and others. Her shrink, Daniel Hugh Kelly as Dr. Thompson, believes a full recovery is within her grasp and takes a chance, arranging a summer job at his own country club.

A colleague played by Tess Harper warns that Adrien has been known to "construct an elaborate mask," but that must have been in another life. Or another script. On the face of things, Miss Heuring remains a protagonist starved for ambiguous or incendiary potential.

Dr. Thompson isn't even romantically involved with his patient, an oversight cable panderers surely would correct. His decency proves no defense against a crazed club member who later brains him with a golf club during a rampage that also requires a shovel and garden shears. It seems a pity that the shovel-wielding urge couldn't have been channeled into more productive outlets, such as teaming up with William A. Macy as the estimable Shoveler of "Mighty Men."

Directed by Mary Lambert, once expected to dazzle Hollywood on the reputation of her music videos with Madonna, "The In Crowd" touches a few bases missed in the weekend's big-deal murder mystery, "What Lies Beneath."

It has a fleeting episode of dirty dancing, suggesting that Miss Lambert might be game for the sequel to "Basic Instinct." The proverbial "other shoe dropping" gets a prominent literal place in the plot for "In Crowd." It was replaced, all too blatantly, by falling picture frames that leave glass shards in "What Lies."

The coincidental release of these movies makes a strong argument for a moratorium on all murder scripts that purport to have a woman's angle.

One-half star out of four

TITLE: "The In Crowd"

RATING: PG-13 (Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual allusions; fleeting nudity)

CREDITS: Directed by Mary Lambert. Screenplay by Mark Gibson and Philip Halprin.

RUNNING TIME: About 100 minutes

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