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Lying in Wait
Tonight's Feature Presentation

LYING IN WAIT (2001)

Starring: Rutger Hauer, Virginia Madsen, Thomas Newton, Vanessa Dorman, Ian Buchanan, Shannon Whirry

Written & Directed By: D. Shone Kirkpatrick

The Short Version

This is a rarity that not too many people even remember exists.

Lying in Wait is one of those movies that is way better than you expect and not quite as good as it ought to be.

Rutger Hauer and Virginia Madsen are excellent here and vastly outclass the guy playing “the hero.”

What was the point of getting a body double for Shannon Whirry?  Seriously.

If you happen to run across Lying in Wait, it’s worth checking out, especially if you dig Rutger Hauer.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

PROVOLONE.

Tasty fare that sits well on a cracker and offers more complex flavor than you might be expecting at first.


Pairs Well With...

INEXPENSIVE CABARNET SAUVIGNON.

We’re talking the seven-to-ten range.  In other words, buffet party red wine.

“Money is good for one thing.  It can buy a moment: a precious moment of fleeting happiness.  And if you’re lucky, it can change your life.”


Unless you’re someone who purposely gravitates toward anything and everything featuring either Rutger Hauer or Shannon Whirry in the cast, the odds are very good that you hadn’t heard of Lying in Wait before.  [Indeed, to give you an idea of how popular it is, as of the day I write this, I am one of only two critics to have a review for this flick posted on IMDB, and the only one who writes in English… just like I was ten years ago when this movie first came out and I reviewed it for my old site, Ziggy’s Video Realm.]  Given that scenario, I have good news for half of you and bad news for the other contingent.

But first, let’s have a look at the plot, shall we?

Babee Gordon (Thomas Newton, in his only apparent venture outside of TV) is a struggling artist and a somewhat troubled young man.  His mother, a former television actress who later turned to painting, died six months ago after first becoming an invalid.  Now living alone in a giant house that used to belong to her, Babee is faced with mounting expenses that he has no way of meeting, and he has little ambition to do anything else but work on his art, which has never sold.

Enter his new next door neighbors: bon vivant Keith Miller (Rutger Hauer, Batman Begins) and his wife, Vera (Virginia Madsen, Highlander II: The Quickening).  Keith stops over to introduce himself, and immediately takes a shine to his young neighbor, inviting him and his girlfriend, El (Vanessa Dorman, Street Poet), over for dinner.  As everyone gets to know each other over a meal and drinks, Babee finds himself becoming attracted to Vera, whom he finds to be far more stimulating than his own “childish” significant other.  Vera, meanwhile, is suspicious of what Keith gets up to while she’s away at work, and asks Babee if he could keep an eye on what happens while she’s away. 

Soon after, Babee spots Keith cheating with the wife of another friend, and when he spills the news to Vera at a house party, Vera flies off in a rage and hops into her car.  Keith manages to jump in after her, but the two barely get a block down the road before the car crashes into a pole.  Vera’s okay, but Keith is in a vegetative coma… or is he?

Lying in Wait is one of those movies that exists is a bizarre type of twilight zone.

It’s a direct to video movie with big screen quality leads that essentially dropped off the face of the planet on the day it came out.  Hiding as it does in dusty corners, one would expect it to be pretty awful, and yet it is in fact much better than one would have any reasonable hope of expecting it to be.  Indeed, once one realizes just how good it is, it then manages to seesaw back to the level of “there’s so much potential and it could have been so much better.”  It’s like the whole thriller section of the video store in one neat little package.

It’s a package which, as noted before, you’re only likely to have dusted off if you’re a dedicated fan actively seeking anything and everything that features either Rutger Hauer or Shannon Whirry, whichever your favorite of the two happens to be.  As noted above, I have good news for one of the above groups, and a big huge helping of WTF for the other.

First, the good news.  Rutger Hauer is awesome in this flick.  Freeing him from the burden of the hero’s role, Lying in Wait allows Hauer to explore other things, and he does so with flair and gusto.  As Keith the bon vivant, Hauer gets to play a character who lives life on an edge defined not by gunfire and bad guys, but by risk and enjoyment.  Normally, the gambler’s joy is the gambler’s alone until he wins, but here, it’s easy to see how Babee can get caught up in Keith’s excitement when placing a completely random bet on a horse at a track he hadn’t even intended to visit that day.  Hauer also shows us the drunken man who has fun with it instead of being ugly, and who is the life of the party because his life is a party.  He also gets to show some complexity as a man who deeply loves his wife and won’t leave her but still strays from the marriage bed; it’d be easy to write such a character off as an ass, even with this exact same script, but thanks to Hauer’s sincere portrayal, Keith remains likable and sympathetic.

This pays dividends when Keith becomes a vegetable, and Rutger Hauer shows himself to be one of those actors who can still own a scene even when he’s not allowed to move or speak.  And when he does speak when he’s not supposed to be able to… there’s a conspiratorial power there that a lesser actor just wouldn’t be able to pull off.  So, if you’re a Rutger Hauer fan, without any further ado, pick up this rare gem before someone finally decides that it’s collected enough dust to get buried for good.

Keeping on with the good news for a moment, Virginia Madsen matches Hauer shot for shot, and delivers a truly excellent and layered performance as Vera.  Angry, sensual, on the edge of grief, in love with someone who causes her pain but who she knows to still be in love with her; Vera allows Madsen to play out all of these things and more, and she never misses a note.  (Indeed, you even get to listen to her sing in one of the movie’s most interesting and even somewhat heart wrenching scenes.)  She may not have the cult following of Rutger Hauer, but Virginia Madsen is definitely worth checking out here.

Now for the bad news.  I’m starting off by talking to you, Shannon Whirry fans.

Let’s not lie to ourselves, okay?  The greater number of Whirry’s followers became such thanks to her work in erotic thrillers of a sort that said followers probably hope this one to be even though it isn’t: movies like Animal Instincts and Body of Influence, where realistically people tend to pay less attention to her acting talent than to her extensively displayed physical assets.  The first part of my bad news double whammy is that even though Shannon Whirry does not have any shower, nude, or sex scenes in Lying in Wait, her character does.  That’s right, folks: she uses a body double, and it’s one of the most hideously obvious uses of a nude body double I’ve ever seen.  (The skin tone isn’t even close – Shannon Whirry is far paler – and the double’s chest is noticeably smaller.)  I’ve never liked the idea of nude body doubles to start with; you take the part to play it, and if it says go nude, you either do, or you display enough clout to get the scene rewritten, or you just don’t take the part.  (Stunt doubles are different; that’s a safety issue.)  A body double is especially outrageous for someone like Shannon Whirry whose career was built on sexually explicit roles in erotic thrillers and whose real body is very familiar to audiences likely to spot a fake shot from the neck down in under two seconds.  If she didn’t want to play those parts anymore, then fine; she shouldn’t have taken this one.  (Oh, and while we’re on the subject, the “strong sexual content” on the film rating notice for this flick is a flat out lie; there’s open robe pose modeling from the bad body double, and there’s fully clothed moaning from Virginia Madsen while she’s being air caressed in her sleep.  That’s it.)

The second part of the Shannon Whirry bad news is that the role is pretty one dimensional, and she doesn’t get to do much with it except be pissed off at anyone she’s talking to.  Yeah, she gets to do more real acting here than in Omega Doom, but that’s not saying much, is it?  Sorry, fans; this is probably not the Shannon you were looking for.

This is not to say, however, that she’s the worst player in the film.  That would be a coin flip between the guy playing our “hero,” Thomas Newton, and the actress playing his girlfriend, Vanessa Dorman, though honestly, I’m thinking it’s a two-headed quarter and Newton called “heads.”  He just cannot stand up against the stellar leads here, nor even the tier-down support, and he’s just not capable of effectively pulling off the complexities of his character.  Yeah, Babee is supposed to be a shy type, but this isn’t acting method, folks; this is a fish out of water.  It seems pretty evident as to why this guy went right back to TV after this and never returned to regular movies.  Dorman – whom you will not believe was over 30 when Lying in Wait was filmed – at least has the excuse of playing a really badly written character; indeed, at that point, her problem really is that she plays the character too well.

Speaking of…

Overall, the screenplay crafted by writer/director D. Shone Kirkpatrick is an interesting one, and can even be considered very well done indeed for the direct to video market niche in which it travels.  However, to start off… “Babee”?  (And yes, that is how it’s pronounced.)  That has to be the single most idiotic male character name I’ve ever seen.  There’s not enough payoff in the script to justify such a stupid name, and frankly, it becomes a distraction after a very short time.  Second, voiceovers are always dicey, and giving the voiceover role to the biggest airhead in the movie just doesn’t work.  Nor does making the character that much of an airhead in the first place, for that matter, which is both a scripting and a directorial choice.

And yet, as noted above, Lying in Wait turns out to be much better than you’d expect.  Generally speaking, it’s very well directed – I especially love how the party is filmed, and Virginia Madsen’s singing sequence – and the story is much more complex than this market normally warrants.  Rename Babee and recast the part, make slight adjustments to the girlfriend, and this is pretty much ready for the real bijou.

Instead, it remains on dusty corners of video warehouse shelves… Lying in Wait, as it were.  (Sorry, had to.)

Bottom line, Lying in Wait is definitely worth a peek if you run across it, and indeed, it’s worth seeking out by name if you’re a Rutger Hauer fan.  If you can look past the horrible body double, it’s surprisingly well crafted, and the performances by its two stars would make it worth the trip even if nothing else had worked.  All the better that more of it does, don’t you think?

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2011


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