Maid for Jekyll or Hyde?
Robert Louis Stevensonís "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," a classic tale of good versus evil in 19th century Edinburgh, usually makes an exciting, suspenseful transfer to the big screen. In 1920, John Barrymore brought Jekyll and Hyde to life in an acclaimed performance. Without relying on excessive makeup, he merely contorted his body to become the nefarious Hyde. Frederic March won an Oscar in 1932 for his brilliant Jekyll/Hyde interpretation. And, in 1941, Spencer Tracy held audiences spellbound when he changed from the respected Dr. Jekyll to the murderous Mr. Hyde.
Unfortunately, Mary Reilly, a psychological drama inspired by the Jekyll/Hyde story (as depicted in a novel by Valerie Martin), breaks a tradition of high quality. In fact, after seeing this dreadful film, I have nightmares about being forced to sit through it one more time.
Julia Roberts seems wildly miscast as Mary Reilly, an innocent Irish chamber-maid attracted to both Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde. How could sweet little Mary be interested in the mysterious Mr. Hyde, you ask? Perhaps because he reminds her of her abusive father (Michael Gambon from Toys) -- who found unusual ways to torture his daughter as she was growing up.
More pouty woman than pretty woman in this role, Robertsí most dramatic emotion seems to be unrelenting listlessness. Playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons), apparently thinks all he needs to transform his character from good to evil is a moustache and a beard. And, oh yes, sometimes a louder voice.
Billed as a "gothic horror thriller," only one scene in Mary Reilly even came close to frightening me. When Dr. Jekyllís kitchen staff prepares an eel for cooking, I gasped and closed my eyes Ė but for a very short time.
Yes, Mary Reilly oozes with dismal, foggy atmosphere. But its murky cinematography and a musical score even more boring than the rest of the film, plus a demeaning cameo by the usually wonderful Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction), add to the dreariness of the entire film experience.
Finding any depth of meaning in Mary Reilly may be difficult indeed, but I overheard a disgruntled moviegoer describing this disappointing flick as "a story about the triumph of evil over evil." I think he's right.
That spinning sound you hear is Robert Louis Stevenson turning over in his grave.
(Released by TriStar Films and rated "R" for notable gore and some strong violence.)