Haven’t we had enough of Annabella Sciorra’s drab earnestness? When she first showed up, in the independent feature True Love (1989), she seemed a refreshing presence, pretty yet defiantly unbeautiful, her small dark eyes throwing off glints of spunk. Since then, however, she has played a series of passive victims—and, more than that, she has played them passively. In movies like Jungle Fever, where she endured the bullying of a righteous black boyfriend and a loutish father, and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, where her nice safe home was invaded by a psycho baby-sitter, Sciorra often seemed to be sending her own characters cowering into corners. It’s as if she thought it was her job to make them as sheepish and ordinary as possible. On some level, this sort of acting may ring true, but it’s not much fun to watch. There’s something pious about Sciorra’s incipient mousiness—the tentative, sad smile that says, ”I’m so helpless.”
Now, in the preposterous thriller Whispers in the Dark, Sciorra has her worst role yet. She plays a psychiatrist who may have linked herself up with a sadomasochistic killer—and in the entire history of Hollywood-movie shrinks, who are almost always a) repressed and b) gullible (a natural by-product of their repression), there may never have been a couch doctor quite as wimpy and brain deficient.
Sciorra’s Ann Hecker is a lonely Manhattan therapist who starts going out with a handsome, doting charter pilot (Jamey Sheridan). Quickly she learns that her new beau may also be the boyfriend of one of her patients (Deborah Unger), a hot blond who describes, in lascivious detail, their death-trip sex games. He may even be a vicious killer. For much of the movie, the evidence points toward him. Yet does Ann doubt his innocence? Of course not. He loves her.
Watching Sciorra play a woman who seems to be putting herself in peril out of her own dim-witted neediness isn’t thrilling, it’s a pain. Yet Whispers in the Dark is so insistently trashy, its plot coincidences jammed together like pieces in a badly assembled Tinkertoy, that the movie sometimes has a camp appeal. A sequence with Ann uncovering a vital clue on a series of audiocassettes plays like something out of The Naked Gun. And when Alan Alda, as Sciorra’s psychiatrist friend, finally gets a pull-out-the-stops scene, the effect is, to say the least, unexpected-rather like watching Woody Allen compete in a decathlon. At moments like this, Whispers in the Dark does an end run around your common sense. It’s so bad it’s shocking.