Saturday 17 March 2018

Movie Review: D.O.A. (1988)

A murder mystery, D.O.A. possesses some obvious style but is badly let-down by a weak script.

In a rainstorm at Christmas time, Professor Dexter Cornell (Dennis Quaid) stumbles into a police station and announces that he has been murdered. He recounts the past 36 hours of his life and the rest of the film unfolds in flashback. Dexter teaches English literature, and his talented but troubled student Nick (Robert Knepper), an aspiring writer, shockingly appears to commit suicide by throwing himself off a campus building roof. Dexter and his wife Gail (Jane Kaczmarek) are going through a painful divorce, while his friend Hal (Daniel Stern) is celebrating a promotion and the upcoming publication of a book.

After a night of heavy drinking with his attractive and starstruck student Sydney (Meg Ryan), Dexter discovers that he has been poisoned and has just hours to live. His frantic investigation leads him to Nick's funeral, where Nick's sponsor Mrs. Fitzwaring (Charlotte Rampling), her daughter Cookie (Robin Johnson) and the family chauffeur Bernard (Christopher Neame) are hiding shocking secrets of their own.

Co-directed by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, D.O.A. is as remake of the 1949 film noir. The 1988 version finds modest success with a few stylistic elements, but overall sinks into a sea of familiar and overstuffed plot elements. The mystery is uninteresting, the perpetrator easy to guess, and the evil plot, once revealed, borders on the ridiculous.

The opening 20 minutes are promising enough. The opening scene hits the target, a near-collapse Dexter storming into the police station and announcing his own murder. The professor and his surrounding circle of students, colleagues and family are introduced with admirable efficiency planting the seeds for what could have been an engaging story. Dexter has given up on writing, Gail has given up on the marriage, Nick is tortured and seeking affirmation, Sydney is salivating for a shot at her professor (despite Meg Ryan, at 27, being too old for the role) and the circle of academics contains the usual wolves in tweed clothing.

But after Nick's death, D.O.A. unravels quickly. Both Dexter's behaviour and his emotions are poorly written and sloppily executed, and the film descends into a series of contrived conflicts, more crimes and murders, and clumsy attempts at suspense. The story wades knee deep into convolutions that may have worked with more talent, in black and white, and in the 1940s. Here, the sordid affairs of Mrs. Fitzwaring, her multiple husbands, out-of-control daughter and menacing chauffeur are tiresome and derivative distractions.

The body count mounts at an alarming pace, and if it wasn't already too easy to guess the murderer, it gets much simpler as the rest of the cast members are methodically knocked off, seemingly without attracting a single investigative police officer.

Dennis Quaid struggles against the weak material and comes up empty, and the rest of the cast members barely register. It may not exactly be dead on arrival, but D.O.A. expires early in any event.

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