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'DON'T SAY A WORD' Thriller's insensitive, tasteless



Published: Thu, September 27, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The new film includes shots of dead bodies lying on Manhattan streets.

By MILAN PAURICH

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

"Don't Say a Word" is an insidious albeit skillfully made new film that, like the recent "Along Came a Spider," uses the kidnapping of a child as the basis for a standard thriller plot.

To make matters even dicier, the new Michael Douglas star vehicle exploits the mentally ill by making a catatonic teen the key to the ostensible mystery. Compounding its already copious insensitivity is the movie's unfortunate timing. Since "Word" takes place in Manhattan, the explosions, dead bodies lying on the street and scenes of shots fired at cops leave a sickening aftertaste.

What sensitivity? Apparently, Hollywood's heightened "sensitivity" to the events of Sept. 11 isn't standing in the way of making a buck. If Paramount can sideline "Sidewalks of New York" because, according to studio vice chairman Rob Friedman, "a film celebrating single life in New York just doesn't seem appropriate right now," why didn't 20th Century Fox display equal common sense by delaying the release of "Word"?

The bottom line, of course, is money. "Sidewalks," which has already had more canceled release dates than Warren Beatty's "Town and Country," looks like a box-office loser whereas "Word" should be a critic-proof smash just like spring's "Spider" was for, interestingly, Paramount. National emergency or not, hypocrisy in Tinseltown never takes a holiday.

I'm not so sure that "Collateral Damage" -- whose release Warner Brothers has put on hold indefinitely -- in which Arnold Schwarzenegger avenges the murders of his wife and child at the hands of a terrorist, wouldn't be a more appropriate release right now. At least a big Hollywood action film like "Collateral Damage" could have delivered vicarious thrills and since it deals somewhat with concerns of the moment, it might have had a cathartic effect.

All "Don't Say a Word" did was make me feel bad.

Plot: Douglas plays Dr. Nathan Conrad, a psychiatrist whose 8-year-old-daughter Jessie (gifted Skye McCole) is abducted on Thanksgiving Day. Conrad has until 5 p.m. to pry a six-digit number from the head of his catatonic new patient Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy), or else Jessie will be murdered.

But since the good doctor has obviously studied at the Steven Seagal School of Medicine, the bad guys are no match for his cunning, wolverine-like physical grace, and skill at delivering quips.

Adding insult to injury, the movie asks us to believe that one day in Conrad's care is all that the traumatized Elisabeth needs to achieve a breakthrough.

The art movie phase of Douglas' career (marked by terrific performances last year in "Wonder Boys" and "Traffic") is clearly over. Here's hoping that his next bread-and-butter commercial assignment carries a lot less baggage than the worrisome "Word" does.




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