Linda Fiorentino's time has finally come
Last spring, around Oscar time, critics everywhere were posing the burning question: ''Why wasn't Linda Fiorentino nominated for a Best Actress Oscar?''
One needn't be a subscriber to Variety to figure that one out. Sure, Fiorentino is wonderful as the irredeemable villainess in the quirky low-budget thriller The Last Seduction, but since when did merely being wonderful sway Oscar? Furthermore, anyone who thinks the gold statuette automatically does wonders for a career should have a nice long chat with F. Murray Abraham.
Fiorentino's track record begs a question more troubling than the Oscar query: Why hasn't this exorbitantly talented actress who's appeared in fewer than a dozen features over the last decade had a more fulfilling career? A look at her more significant roles yields a disheartening answer: wrong place, wrong time.
Although a mere 25 years old at the time of her first movie, Vision Quest, the lithe, dark-haired actress carried herself with a worldliness and irony that was way out of synch with the era's Brat Packers. As Carla, a would-be artist who winds up lodging with Louden, a high school wrestler (Matthew Modine), and his auto-mechanic dad (Ronny Cox), the initially distant Fiorentino seems the ideal fantasy de-virginizer for the hormonally volcanic young man. But Louden's also got something else on his mind: challenging a nearby wrestling legend, a struggle that eventually subsumes this appealingly awkward romance.
More awkward still and not nearly so appealing is the romance in the tiresome Gotcha!. As an Eastern European spy posing as a grad student, Fiorentino puts on a Natasha Fatale accent and seduces undergrad Anthony Edwards. One detects a pattern here: Sure, Demi Moore survived the teen-romances-older-woman comedy No Small Affair, but at least she didn't make the same movie twice.
The third movie of Fiorentino's debut year, Martin Scorsese's Kafkaesque comedy After Hours is by far the best, and boasts a deceptively subtle performance by the actress as a too-cool sculptress who's the roommate of wayward yuppie Griffin Dunne's date from hell (Rosanna Arquette). Not interested in pandering to a teen demographic the way her first two movies did, After Hours places Fiorentino in an ensemble of adults, where her sultry flame can burn bright blue.
A few more ensemble pieces (1988's The Moderns, about artists in the '20s, and the 1991 Big Chill variation Queens Logic) and little-seen blips (1991's Shout and 1992's Strangers) followed, as did the inevitable goofball cable thriller. In Acting on Impulse, Fiorentino plays a B-movie scream queen who storms off the set of her latest picture, leaving a dead (or is he?) producer in her trailer. Hiding out in a luxury resort, the feisty actress happens upon a sales convention and proceeds to loosen up some straight-arrow attendees until reality starts catching up with her. The best bits here are the ones that seem to be going nowhere the scenes of Fiorentino, C. Thomas Howell, and Nancy Allen drunkenly goofing around are simultaneously relaxed and fraught with sexual tension.
Fiorentino's next film, The Last Seduction, is a genre potboiler of a different kind. Originally shown on cable TV (and hence ineligible for Oscars), with a nasty, tricky script and brisk, knowing direction from John Dahl (Red Rock West), it chronicles the misdeeds of Bridget, who skips out on her husband with the loot gained from a drug deal and then enlists a good-natured hick in her plan to get her spouse out of the picture. Bridget is a monster, to be sure, but it's easy to see why this movie clicked with perverse cineastes: For women, she represents a grotesquely entertaining caricature of female empowerment; for men, she's the dangerous yet tempting hotsy-totsy. Oscar or not, the power of Fiorentino's performance landed the actress the female lead in the Joe Eszterhas-scripted is-she-or-isn't-she-a-psycho-killer extravaganza Jade. Apparently Hollywood has finally figured out what a lot of fans already know (as a friend said recently, ''If she had been the lead in Basic Instinct, I'd own a copy of it''); it may be that Fiorentino's time has come at last.
The Last Seduction: A-
Vision Quest: C+
After Hours: A
Acting on Impulse: B-