What happens when you open your home to someone who's gutsier than you, more devious than you...and crafty enough to steal your life right out form under you? Plenty of Malice. Starring Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman and Bill Pullman, and boasting "an excellent supporting cast" (The New York Times) that includes Oscar-winners Gwyneth Paltrow and Anne Bancroft, this bold, riveting thriller is "deviously entertaining" (The New York Times).
Easy-going college dean Andy Safian's (Pullman) quiet New England world has just been terribly disrupted. Two coeds have been raped, a third has been killed, and the police are beginning to suspect him! At home, bills are piling up, his wife (Kidman) is developing severe stomach cramps and the new tenant - a devilishly handsome surgeon (Baldwin) - is regularly "entertaining" nurses late into the night. Little does Andy know that all of these events are related...and that he's about to be blindsided by something more daring and deadly than anything he could have ever imagined!
"Ask God how many shots of bourbon he had before he cut me open."
There once was a time when Nicole Kidman was married to Tom Cruise, Bill Pullman could still headline a movie, and Alec Baldwin was the awesome older brother of Billy and Stephen. That time was 1993. Nicole hadn't yet won an Oscar, Bill hadn't yet played the fighter jet flying President, and Alec wasn't 'The Shadow.' Given these stars' popularity and their ability to play to a type, casting them in a big thriller written by an up and coming screenwriter and award winning playwright named Aaron Sorkin made sense. Add in the director from the recent hit 'Sea of Love' Harold Becker and you have the makings for a sure fire hit thriller - or you should have. 1993's 'Malice' ends up becoming a wildly entertaining yet messy and convoluted medical/serial killer/con film.
Andy (Bill Pullman) is living the ideal life of his dreams. He has a successful job as college Dean of Students and is married to Tracy (Nicole Kidman) who teaches kids at a local daycare. Together they bought a beautiful Victorian home they aim to restore to its former glory. On top of expensive plumbing issues facing their restoration efforts - the town is wracked with panic after a string of serial murders where the killer cuts off the hair of his victims. As the attacks progress, Andy is slowly drawn into the investigation. All of the young women that were attacked and killed had been to his office to settle a dispute of some kind. If it hadn't been for the incredible surgical ability of the new chief surgeon Jed (Alec Baldwin), the latest victim would have died.
When Andy meets with the good doctor to express his gratitude, he's taken aback when he discovers they went to the same high school. Granted they traveled in different circles, but the two start talking about the good old days again and become fast friends. As it happens, Jed needs a place to drop his things as he's been living out of suitcases since he arrived in town. Andy has an amicable solution by offering to rent Jed the top floor of his new home allowing he and Tracy to pay for some necessary repairs. Tracy is a bit miffed at the idea of a lodger taking over part of their home, but she goes along with it. Soon after, Tracy is besieged with chronic stomach pains that hit her hard for about 30 or 40 seconds and then subside. The pains get so severe that Tracy requires emergency surgery - a complex surgery that Jed is the only one qualified to handle.
During the procedure it's discovered Tracy's ovaries had developed cysts. One absolutely needed to come out, the other appeared to be necrotic and Jed is put in the position of making a judgement call - wait for a pathology test to know for sure, or sew her up and risk Tracy going into toxic shock. He makes the call and it turns out to be wrong. The ovary was viable and now Jed has opened himself and the hospital up to a huge lawsuit. With Tracy's love lost and now the prime suspect in a murder investigation Andy is beside himself. He must find a way to clear his name, win Tracy back, and prevent another murder of one of his students. The only problem is as Andy starts to sort out his messy life - a slew of new mysterious problems arise. A mystery that is like trying to unravel a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting, and knitting, and knitting!
If I had to described 'Malice' in a single word, I think I would say "Stuffed." There is just entirely too much "movie" going on for one movie. That isn't to say that 'Malice' isn't entertaining - it is, very! So if I had three words to describe the movie I would say "stuffed with fun!" It's just such a wildly weird movie it's hard to know where to start with any kind of critical analysis. Perhaps the weirdest and most out of place element of this film is the serial killer side story - it just doesn't add anything to the movie other than an early appearance from Gwyneth Paltrow as one of Andy's students. Looking at the this movie in hindsight - the casting of the killer is also a bit of a problem. The first time you see the actor in question, it shouldn't be too difficult for eagle-eyed movie watchers to draw the connection, but I'll leave that up to you to see if you can spot him. I don't want to ruin the fun.
The main reason this serial killer element is so problematic is that it shortchanges the medical/legal drama which is essentially the heart of the whole show and leads to the second and third act plot turns. The serial killer element really only serves as a piece of exposition in the end that could have been handled another way. Other than that strange bit, 'Malice' is actually a pretty good roll of a film. Bill Pullman does what he does best by playing that affable lovable guy. Kidman plays the sleek vixen well. And Alec Baldwin basically plays a version of himself as the doctor with a god complex. Harold Becker does a decent enough job steering the ship and Aaron Sorkin's script is filled to the brim with long-winded speeches of the best kind. Because of the numerous plot twists and turns it is extremely difficult to describe the events in 'Malice' without spoiling the whole show. I'll just leave you with the notice that it's a pretty great early 90s thriller that is a lot of fun if you let yourself have some.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Malice' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics line. Pressed on a Region A locked BD25 disc and housed in a standard case, the disc opens direct to the main menu featuring a static image.
I wish I could say that 'Malice' has aged well in the last 22 years, but this transfer doesn't exactly show off the film's finer graces. Film grain dominates this 1.85:1 1080p presentation in an extreme way. Now, during well lit scenes and daylight moments, this isn't a problem at all as it leads to some beautiful detail levels - especially for fine patterns and faces. The problem kicks in during night shots and darkly lit moments - the movie looks like a swarm of locusts attacked the screen. On top of the high grain, contrast appears to be tweaked a bit too high during some moments making scenes appear overly bright and can kill the usually strong black levels. Another issue that is apparent during these night shots is that it appears that the print has some sort of wear along the right side of the screen that runs vertically and is noticeably lighter. It's harder to notice during the daylight moments, but every dark scene has this same anomaly. If I had a guess I would say this was due to some sort of processing rub as the print was run through the telecine. Color is fantastic throughout, primaries have a lot of life to them and flesh tone appear spot on. For a catalogue release things could be worse, but other films from this era have faired far better than this one. My wager this is less a problem on Kino Lorber's side of the coin than it is for Fox/MGM's handling of their catalogue releases. While hardly pristine, it's at least a noticeable upgrade over the previous DVD release.
With a strong DTS-HD MA 2.0 track there is nothing malicious about 'Malice.' From the opening shots, there is a lot to appreciate with the clarity of Jerry Goldsmith's fantastic score for this film. As the music calms down, the movie comes up with a lot of atmospheric sound effects and ambient noise to make the track have real life and presence. Imaging likewise is equally impressive since this movie does get a lot of subtle play through the center channels. Sound effects in the operating room are probably best used with the hissing of the machinery and beeping of the heart monitor. Dialogue comes through just fine as levels are spot on. I'm going to mention Goldsmith's score one more time because this movie is so over the top in places, his music just sells the movie.
Malice Trailer: (SD 1:57) This trailer almost gives away too much of the show while begging the audience not to spoil the film for those who haven't seen it yet. Gotta love trailers from this era.
The Onion Field Trailer: (SD 1:59) The only reason I can assume this trailer is included is because the film was directed by Harold Becker and is actually a great piece of late 70s marketing.
'Malice' was one of those movies I'd seen late at night on cable well over a decade ago and had long forgotten, but I don't know how I could, considering how nuts the whole show is, but I did - so that made watching it again all the more fun. Is it a great movie by any stretch of cinematic achievement? No. Everyone involved has made bigger and better movies either before or since this film's release, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot to see and enjoy here, because there is! With only a serviceable HD presentation and a strong audio track - it's a tough recommend to make for people looking to replace their old DVDs. However, if you've never seen the movie or are a fan looking to add this to your collection for the first time, this Blu-ray from Kino Lorber is worth a look.