Malice (1993) starring Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman, Bebe Neuwirth, George C. Scott, Anne Bancroft, Peter Gallagher, Josef Sommer, Tobin Bell, Gwyneth Paltrow directed by Harold Becker Movie Review

Malice (1993)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Nicole Kidman and Bill Pullman in Malice

Smart Alec Kidman fits the Bill

Andy (Bill Pullman - Sleepless in Seattle) and Tracy (Nicole Kidman - Days of Thunder) are happy newly weds fixing up their old house and enjoying their work. The only shadows over their lives are a few medical problems which Tracy suffers from and a serial killer stalking the campus where Andy teaches. But all that is about to change when they rent out the top floor of their house to top surgeon Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin - Glengarry Glen Ross) who Andy knows from being at the same school as him many years earlier.

The strength of "Malice" is that it starts of as one thing, a thriller surrounding a serial killer doing the rounds on a college campus and then turns into something completely different. But it's clever in doing so as it sucks you into this double narrative of this killer whilst also throwing us into the life of newly weds Andy and Tracy along with their new lodger, ultra brilliant surgeon Jed Hill. It leads you on this path of questioning, wondering where the link is between these two stories, is Jed the serial killer, does he know something, he is certainly a little creepy enough to make you wonder.

Alec Baldwin and Bill Pullman in Malice

But then "Malice" twists things and not for the first time, it takes us on another route full of twists and dead ends as you begin to understand more and that those storylines which seems so pivotal to start with were just laying route to a bigger storyline, a bigger thrill a lot more than you were expecting.

As such "Malice" likes to throw twists at you, subtle clues and red herrings and it never lets up as from start to finish the clues and clever twists are there, you just fail to see them. It's masterfully done, disguising the main storyline so well yet in a strange way it makes sense when the big twist comes. Not all the twists work, some you can see coming a mile off, some are just too contrived, as is the actually storyline on a couple of occasions, but it keeps you interested, keeps you guessing right up until the dieing moments.

But whilst all this is good and "Malice" is one of those rare movies which does get away with a lot of contrivances, it does at times try to pack too much in. The double narrative to start with feels a little too much especially when the big reveal comes and you realise that one of the narratives other than building tension and providing one clue doesn't really have much to do with the overall storyline. Is this wrong, not really because in a way it's the magicians trick, a bigger version of slight of hand but because there is this double narrative it causes you to almost flick between the various storylines.

Aside from having maybe too much packed in there are other issues mostly around believability such as this highly paid surgeon renting a room, surely a well paid expert God like doctor doesn't need to rent a room in a house which is in the state of being renovated. Also the banter between Pullman and Baldwin's characters doesn't feel right with almost a comedy dialogue thrown in. Plus there is minor nudity and sex scenes which feel inserted not because they are really pivotal or character building but because they are almost expected of a 90s thriller.

As for the performances I don't know if the casting of Bill Pullman as Andy is a master stroke or a mistake, he's great at playing the plain character and does it so well here but then the minute "Malice" picks up and changes everything the character doesn't change enough, no real anxiety, fear or tension. Although that is a lie as in the scene where he is straddled by Nicole Kidman, feeding him Chinese, Pullman looks seriously uncomfortable and anxious.

Aside from my question over the casting of Bill Pullman the rest of the cast pull out the stops with Nicole Kidman displaying a grip on a multi layered character which shows the great talent she is. And although Alec Baldwin suffers in those scenes where he is forced to deliver the strange comedy dialogue brings the egotistical character of Jed to life with such a sense of arrogance it feels real.

"Malice" is also helped by some supporting performances such as Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Kennsinger,George C. Scott as Dr. Martin Kessler and Bebe Neuwirth who delivers a frostiness to her role as Det. Dana Harris not unlike the frostiness she delivers in her more recognizable role as Lilith in "Frasier" and "Cheers".

What this all boils down to is that "Malice" is a clever movie keeping you glued to the twisting story as it leads you one way then the next before revealing itself in an unexpected manner. It is at times a little too clever for its own good and I question the casting of Bill Pullman who does well to start with but then suffers. But all in all "Malice" is a movie which will deliver the "I Never Saw That Coming" element it tries so hard to achieve.