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Panic


By Jaimie Baron | Posted

Apparently hoping to cash in on the success of Analyze This and The Sopranos, writer/director Henry Bromell gives us Alex (William H. Macy), a middle-aged man who goes to a psychologist (John Ritter) and tells him that he kills people for a living. We find out through several effective flashbacks that Alex has been coached by his gangster father, Michael (Donald Sutherland), to commit murder since he was 6 years old. He's good at it, but over the years he developed a conscience. Now he's depressed and wants to give up the "family business," but he can't stand up to his domineering father or his conspiratorial mother (Barbara Bain), who accuses her son of trying to undermine all the hard work Dad did building the business from scratch. (She's also fond of her husband's high income.) Soon Michael finds out that Alex is seeing a shrink . . . and guess who Alex's next victim is going to be? Sounds promising, if unoriginal, but it's hard to care about this dilemma because the rapport between Alex and his therapist is cursory and bland. Played with a forced seriousness, their relationship feels strikingly like that of Robert De Niro (mobster) and Billy Crystal (psychologist) in Analyze This, with all the humor sucked out.

To make things worse, Alex meets a girl named Sarah (Neve Campbell) in the psychologist's waiting room and falls in "love" with her, despite the fact that her character is a wooden stereotype of the tragic indie heroine (who also happens to be bisexual). Why she is interested in Alex is unclear, except that she thinks he is "beautiful" because he has "sad eyes." This incomprehensible affair (or stalking episode, depending how you see it) creates strife between Alex and his wife (Tracy Ullman) but makes him feel "not dead anymore." To top off this conglomeration of superficial relationships, the drama of the film ultimately depends on the dreaded "cute kid" factor. Sammy (David Dorfman), Alex's 6-year-old son, lies next to his father at bedtime and delivers his overly scripted lines as if he were reading from Precociousness for Dummies.

The only potentially interesting relationship in the film--between the cruel, ruthless Michael and his chronically passive, indecisive son--ends in cliché. Bromell's title seems to promise a plot packed with suspense, there is not a single moment of true tension, let alone panic, in the whole thing.

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