Breathe there moviegoers with hearts so dead who never to themselves have said, ”Gimme a thriller about a frightened little daughter of psycho felons who’s adopted by a nice family, but then her murderous parents come looking for her, and there’s a lot of violence as the nice family defends itself against Mr. and Ms. Sicko”? Actually, there are legions — the kind of people (including me) who filled theaters for The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. But anyone expecting that same creepy excitement in The Tie That Binds is baying at the moon. Which is, in fact, what Daryl Hannah and Keith Carradine spend a lot of time doing as the marauding nutjobs who pass for characters in this dismal tale.
Six-year-old Janie (Julia Devin) is taken away by cops when her ma and pa — Hannah and Carradine — are interrupted during a robbery rampage (he likes to photograph his victims before killing them; she likes to raid the fridge and study pictures of the Madonna and Child). Janie spends time in an orphanage before being adopted by Dana (Moira Kelly) and Russell (Vincent Spano), an attractive couple so loving and earnest (he’s the world’s last incorruptible contractor; she’s the nation’s least fussy food photographer) that you know they’ll still be alive after the carnage ends. Wesley Strick, best known for his screenplay of the similarly sadistic Cape Fear, makes his directing debut here (working with a convoluted script by Michael Auerbach), and he covers all the uh-oh bases: Winds pick up ominously, toys are ripped, shadows of Carradine-as-killer line the wall before the victim sees him, etc. Add Carradine doing a sociopath’s war dance (hmmm, the farmer did a solo jig in Babe too; do I spot a trend?), and Hannah draping her messy hair with a shmatte and striking a biblical pose, and you’ve got yourself one ludicrous creeper.
And I haven’t even mentioned the little girl who walks, zombielike, into highway traffic, or the frantic Dana, who uses her superhuman maternal strength to kick open a means of escape for her precious kid just as the Evil Biological Dad punches his hand through a wall to unlock a door. Sure, such devices can be mighty effective. But in this case, the tie that binds you to your theater seat is in constant danger of becoming completely unraveled. D-