Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Eavesdropper (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on February 24, 2006

Directed and written by Andrew Bakalar/starring Lucy Jenner, Costas Mandylor, John De Lancie, John J. York, George Takei. Tucker Smallwood/Freestyle Home Entertainment

A deaf woman undergoes an experimental treatment to restore her hearing, and discovers she can read other people’s thoughts.

There are times when you really wish you could find something nice to say about a movie. This is one of those times.

I didn’t really know anything about this movie when I agreed to accept a screener for it. The description sounded really cool though, so I thought it might be worth a shot. They made it sound like this weird little underground conspiracy film based on a true story, when the actual movie really isn’t anything like that at all. It plays more like a rejected pilot for the Sci-Fi Channel. In fact it has recently aired on Lifetime under its original title, Patient 14. That should probably tell you something.

It’s kind of a shame that the movie’s so lame, because writer/director Bakalar seems to have his heart in the right place. If the information on his commentary and the behind-the-scenes doc is accurate, he essentially raised the money himself, managed to get well-known actors to appear in it and struggled to get it released. In other words, this is a true independent film. If only good intentions and hard work were enough.

The strangely convoluted plot centers on Liza (Jenner), a woman who undergoes a traumatic experience when her boyfriend/husband (wasn’t sure which) is shot by a mugger and the gunshot is so close to her ears that it renders her deaf. This happens before the opening credits, which is followed by a montage in which Liza is forcibly evicted from her home (what, deaf people don’t work?) and winds up sleeping in a car. Why she didn’t, say, go immediately to the police station after the shooting is unclear. She’s eventually found by a social worker (York) who brings her to a shelter and naturally falls in love with her, because that’s what happens in the movies.

Then she gets the opportunity to receive an experimental operation designed to restore her hearing. Of course she jumps on it, unaware that there have been other patients who have gone insane and/or committed suicide after the treatment. Liza is able to hear the thoughts of everyone she comes in contact with, but unlike the other patients she manages to keep her mental state intact. This naturally raises the interest of the government, who are secretly behind the operations and want to use her as a spy. She’s pursued by a rather unpleasant agent (Mandylor) who puts her to work protecting the interests of the country, then of course she has to find a way to get away from him and escape the government’s clutches, because that’s what happens in the movies.

The problem is, Bakalar never makes us care about any of this. The plot is initially interesting (if not particularly believable) when dealing with Liza’s condition and the results of the secret operation. But then the movie has to introduce all this tired, clichéd stuff about the government conspiracy, the big bad agent forcing her to do a job she doesn’t want to do, and then Liza going on the run, and it all plays like an uninspired TV-movie. Any energy the movie generated gets drained as it painfully goes through the motions of its typical middle-of-the-road thriller storyline. I honestly felt like I’d seen the second half of this about 75 million times. What starts out as a potentially cool little sci-fi flick becomes the kind of movie that should star the likes of Tori Spelling. Zzzzz….

Nor does it help matters that Eavesdropper contains all the visual panache of a below-average Diagnosis Murder episode. Every frame has that flat, pedestrian look that seems designed to keep old people from having seizures. I don’t know if this was intentional or if that’s simply the best they could do with the budget they had, but either way it makes for unexciting viewing. To be fair, the image quality is never amateurish or unprofessional, unlike many low-budget genre pictures. But mere competence just isn’t enough to keep the viewer from nodding off. If Bakalar had even tried to do anything interesting visually here, it might have made the film at least enjoyable to watch. Instead, it’s a chore to sit through, especially when combined with the ridiculous and dull plot.

The acting is generally decent enough for this sort of enterprise, with the glaring exception of B-movie mannequin Mandylor, whose tiresome performance as the main villain makes one long for the subtlety and nuance of Richard Grieco. Mandylor is one of those guys who just never seems to register any sort of charisma on film, no matter how undemanding the role might be, and he’s downright unwatchable here. His character might as well be named “Generic Bad Guy”. York, who’s apparently a well-known soap star, doesn’t fare much better as the saintly social worker whose one discriminating feature is his history of having sex with his patients. You never get the feeling that he falls in love with Liza for any particular reason other than…well, she’s there. And that’s what characters like this are supposed to do in movies like this. Star Trek fans might get a brief kick out of seeing “Sulu” (Takei) and “Q” (de Lancie) appear together as the misguided doctors who give Liza her operation, but they’re merely functional in their roles, If you rent this movie just to see them, might I suggest professional help?

The standout is virtual unknown Jenner (whom the back cover credits as having been in Casino, though her IMDb page does not), who manages to deliver a solid performance as the ever-suffering Liza. This despite having virtually no character background to work with – we learn very little about Liza’s life before the shooting, so we never have a real sense of what she’s lost other than what we see in Jenner’s eyes. There really isn’t much to the character as written, but she projects an intelligence and groundedness that keeps the movie watchable for awhile, even when the plot really hasn’t earned our interest. She’s attractive in a very real, relatable way, and I hope to see her in better films.

It’s a shame that Eavesdropper resorts to such clichéd storytelling, because the basic premise could have made for a fascinating film. That is, if they had stuck to it and not felt the need to bring in the hoary old government-conspiracy plot elements. The idea of a person being able to hear others’ thoughts has potential, so why not explore its possibilities rather than exploit it for unrealistic story points? I actually think it would be kind of cool myself (at the very least, it would take the guesswork out of dating). Why does it drive the other patients insane and not Liza? How would it affect her interactions with other people? Would she possibly be able to use it to get her old life back? Those are the kind of issues that make an interesting story, yet Bakalar seems completely uninterested in pursuing them. It’s as if he thought he couldn’t sell the film on its premise, so he just used it as a launching point for a standard chase movie. The question he seems to have failed to ask is, why should the audience care?

The film’s publicity claims that the film is “Based on Shocking True Events”, yet there’s no evidence or explanation of such events in the disc’s extras, just Bakalar’s statement that a true story inspired him. I seriously doubt that any true story could be so uninspired, but I would have much preferred to see a film about the real case, if such a case exists. If he stumbled onto a fascinating real story, why go through all the trouble to make a movie that avoids any sense of reality whatsoever? While I admire the effort that went into it, I can’t help but wonder what the point was. It’s not enough just to have good intentions – it’s necessary to have a story worth telling. Eavesdropper doesn’t, sadly.

*1/2 2/24/06

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