Ring Cycles


Bruce Beresford’s new movie about the life of Alma Schindler-Mahler, Bride of the Wind, is a standard-issue fin de siècle costume parade, simplifying every dramatic transaction to a torpid minimum but never answering its own looming “why”: Why Alma? Biopics are so often built upon the loose sand of notoriety and art glamour, and here is a film whose reason for being revolves around not merely unfilmable genius (itself a commonly and errantly pursued mystery, from Gance’s 1936 Beethoven to Pollock), but proximity of same. Alma (Sarah Wynter) is notable only for sleeping with a few famous men, and yet Beresford’s film regards her as a heroine for her age. Little more than a deck of Vienna Secession trading cards, Bride invokes the contemporaneous presence of Mahler, Kokoschka, and Klimt as if that alone will magically produce narrative or thematic substance. (The producers’ rationales more probably involved indulging in costume design and Viennese architecture.) Alma doesn’t have a story; she simply moves from man to man (seemingly losing children along the way). So much for retro-feminism.

The only reoccurring bouts of tension concern the subjugation of Alma’s own mediocre composing and, rather explicitly, her desire to be pampered like a sultana. Her self-involved husband, Gustav (Jonathan Pryce), “uses” her as a homemaker (“You have crushed my spirit, Gustav!”), her subsequent “wild man” Kokoschka (Vincent Perez) is one of those intense artist-types who’s maniacally jealous of Alma’s Mahler bust, and architect lover/husband Walter Gropius (a comatose Simon Verhoeven) oppresses our maiden by disapproving of the Kokoschka nudes on the wall. Looking uncannily like Gene Tierney without the overbite, Wynter is a gorgeous but unremarkable and passive central figure who doesn’t age much in 30 years of transpired time. (Every other woman in the film is a pug-ugly gossip.) Working in a textual vacuum, Beresford manages to make even the art and music dull.

Nearly as clueless, half as patronizing, but twice as dumbed-down, the adaptation of Donald E. Westlake’s novel What’s the Worst That Could Happen? is shot and staged like an old Bob Hope comedy without Hope—I’d rather watch a forgotten houseplant dehydrate and die. As a high-end thief and an amoral billionaire engaged in swinging-dick combat over a worthless ring, Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito are lost in a fog of projectile gags, obvious setups, overclowning, and careless camera placement (DeVito has so many inappropriately intimate close-ups you feel saturated with spittle). Director Sam Weisman (veteran of Family Ties and the august feature version of George of the Jungle) has the comedy acumen of a drunk mime. Even so, the supporting cast steal their moments, particularly thief-buddy John Leguizamo (his hyperactive babbling can make any tosh go down) and William Fichtner as an incongruous detective fop, all beige suits, Hanson hair, poodles, and mascara. Conducting a crime-scene Q&A as if it were a dance number from Funny Face, Fichtner is out of left field, but that’s a lot closer to home than anything else in play.