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Sketch Artist
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Jack Sommersby

"It's 'Sketch'y, That's For Sure"
2 stars

One of those lame Showtime-produced cable-TV productions that made you want to subscribe to HBO instead.

Jeff Fahey's fine performance as a Los Angeles police sketch artist who suspects his wife might me a murderer is the only reason to get involved in this truly lackadaisical thriller that's about as suspenseful as a rerun of Happy Days, which is a shame because its central story premise is a rather good one. Fahey plays Jack Whitfield, who's summoned to a murder scene where a powerful garment manufacturer has been slain inside his building; after sketching the layout, he then works with a witness, Daisy Drew (Drew Barrymore), a bicycle messenger, who saw a woman leaving the scene around the time of the murder. Suffice to say, Jack is quite unnerved when the sketch gradually gives way to a composite that's very similar to that of his wife, Rayanne (Sean Young), a career fashion consultant. Flabbergasted and in a panic with the lieutenant demanding the sketch, he hastily redoes it so it looks like someone different. When he returns home, rather than confronting Rayanne, he tries to get some information as to her whereabouts that night, and she claims to have been somewhere else entirely. Added to which, in a fairly neat twist, a woman with a criminal record who resembles the made-up sketch is brought in for questioning, which, to put it lightly, puts Jack in quite the hot seat. From here, though, the movie loses any semblances of wit, and dwindles down to a series of mediocre scenes that lack both definition and edge.

This is a first-time screenplay by Michael Angeli, and it shows in that he apparently was so in love with his story concept that he didn't bother to suitably develop it: rather than endowing it with interesting characters and a functional whodunit angle, he just throws in redundant dialogue scenes that don't really get anywhere, along with some way too obvious red herrings that wouldn't fool even a first-time Agatha Christie reader. With a lack of logical suspects, a good deal of the weight is put upon Young, who doesn't emanate much in the way of danger. She was actually quite good in supporting roles in the military comedy Stripes and the sci-fi tale Blade Runner, but here she's unfocused and enervating, as if she were preoccupied with securing her next deal than investing much in the way of gravitas to the proceedings. Emotionally and exotically, she's a zero. Also not helping matters is the substandard work of Phedon Papamichael, a cinematographer making his debut as a director, and, like Angeli, has no idea what he's doing. The framing is no great shakes, and the staging is lackluster and lacks compression -- a thriller simply can't sustain itself when it's not properly aligned with doses of tautness: we could be watching a daytime soap opera for all the lack of finesse. Even at a mere eighty-eight minutes, the material doesn't have enough viable context for even half that length; and you can't help but wonder why even a halfway-perceptive studio exec didn't order Angeli back to his word processor to give the screenplay some much-needed nourishment.

Luckily, there's the always-dependable Fahey around to give Sketch Artist some occasional verve. His role isn't any better written than Young's, but Fahey, who gave outstanding, star-making performances as the assistant DA in the dandy thriller Impulse and the frustrated screenwriter in Clint Eastwood's brilliant White Hunter, Black Heart, is the kind of resourceful actor who can suggest both an inner life and an intelligence that draws us to him; he's also appealing and accessible, so we never feel there's a silver screen between us and his character. Like Jeff Bridges and Kurt Russell, he effortlessly disappears into his roles and vivifies them enough without calling undue attention to himself; clearly, he respects his craft enough so there's a welcome absence of "Look, Ma, I'm acting!" showboating and a distinct presence of both discipline and verity. (OK, he was admittedly hammy as the ill-tempered, grungy wannabe rock star who served as an antagonist to Anthony Perkins' Norman in Psycho III, but it was appropriate given that the material was a far-from-subtle black comedy.) He's not afarid of making Jack something of an underachiever who hasn't exactly set the world on fire and hasn't any aspirations to do so, thus making the character the perfect Everyman. Fahey also has the gift of never being boring on the silver screen. He's terrific, but the same certainly can't be said for this sodden stiff of a cinematic endeavor that elicits more in the way of yawns than palpitations.

The unnecessary sequel, "Sketch Artist II: Hands That See", is a bit better and more worth your time.

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originally posted: 09/03/11 04:03:30
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User Comments

7/21/15 Carl Bruun Promising premise, boring movie. 2 stars
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  27-Jun-1992 (R)



Directed by
  Phedon Papamichael

Written by
  Michael Angeli

  Jeff Fahey
  Sean Young
  Frank McRae
  Drew Barrymore
  Charlotte Lewis

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