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The F*cking Black Sheep: Sliver (1993)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

SLIVER (1993)

DIRECTED BY PHILLIP NOYCE

"You like to watch...don't you!" Oh lord, please tell me I wasn't the only kid who overindulged in the guilty pleasure of digging SLIVER so deeply and so often that, like a proud scar, it’s stuck under their skin for years afterward. Be honest. Anyone else care to admit they broke their VHS rewind button watching this movie ad nauseam in a time before the internet. Hell, I busted the pause button as well!

Not to bury the lead, but Phillip Noyce’s steamy techno-psychosexual thriller SLIVER is a F*cking Black Sheep if ever there was one. Yes, the movie is an unabashed cash-in on FATAL ATTRACTION and BASIC INSTINCT, with the scribe of the latter, Joe Eszterhas, penning the screenplay here as well. Yes the movie could and should have been much better given the Ira Levin source novel, famous producer Robert Evans, accomplished director (DEAD CALM, PATRIOT GAMES), Oscar winning DP Vilmos Zsigmond and estimated $40 million budget. Yes, the rewritten ending – five variations of which Eszterhas wrote in three days – only reinforces the sublimely asinine course of action that precedes it. All of that is understood.

But so goddamn what! The bawdily devourous entertainment value of SLIVER is so damn delicious that all of its campy, kitschy, silly, sophomoric and perverted aftertastes do not sour its juicy palatability. And the number one ingredient in this delectably sultry cinematic slumgullion? You got it, Sharon mother*ckng Stone!

So, with Stone recently turning 60 years young (and still looking fantastic), as well as the movie celebrating its 25th birthday this very week…there’s no better time to express why SLIVER deserves better public reception. Straight up, it’s the best damn version of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY yet!

SLIVER opens with a mysterious murder. A fetching blonde woman named Naomi Singer is tossed from an upper-floor of a NYC high-rise by a hooded figure, plummeting to her death down below. We then meet lookalike Carly Norris (Stone), a gorgeous but sexually repressed, 35-year old book editor. As Norris moves into the same apartment that Naomi was murdered in, it becomes clear that Carly has been systematically targeted. When an old neighbor named Gus Hale (Keene Curtis) tries to warn Carly of this, he ends up dead with a broken neck in the shower. With a killer on the loose in the building, our two primary suspects include Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin), a dashing millionaire playboy who owns the building and creepily spies on his tenants through an elaborate surveillance system. The other suspect is Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger), the hot-tempered writer of a novel called Flesh and Blood that Carly unfavorably reviewed.

As Carly gets romantically entangled with Zeke (a role turned down by Johnny Depp, River Phoenix and Val Kilmer by the way), shedding her sexual repressions and rediscovering her carnal appetites, she continues to court danger. When she learns that Zeke used to date Naomi prior to her, she begins to sense a lecherous M.O. in the voyeuristic young stud. Overarching issues of identity, intimacy and privacy can’t be ignored. Carly also grows wearier of Jack’s escalating advances. Her paranoia grows, her mistrust increases, and soon Carly waltzes into a sidestepping cat-and-mouse dance with the mysterious murderer. Cue the sex, lies and snuff-film videotape!

Now, full disclosure, spoilers abound. Originally, Zeke was supposed to be revealed as the killer in the end. But this somehow confused the test audience at the time, and Eszterhas was forced to rewrite the finale so that Jack was unveiled as the murderer. This creates an uneven, dissatisfying ending, even if the implication of Zeke all along felt too strong to materialize. That is, Zeke seemed too obvious the entire time. Still, the letdown ending has little bearing on the overall entertainment level, Stone’s performance, or the celebration of a woman’s liberated sexual reawakening.

To be clear, it’s Stone’s turn here that makes SLIVER a hugely compelling watch. Whereas Stone’s femme fatale in BASIC INSTINCT the year prior was ultra-sexy, confident, powerful and in control, here Stone plays Carly with the exact opposite comportment. Her character starts off shy and demure, awkwardly asexual and quite submissive. And yet she registers these qualities with the exact same level of credibility as she does in BASIC INSTINCT. Despite having a world-class bone-structure; a perfect face and athletic physique, she plays the part with a palpable innocence that allows for us to side and ride with her the entire way.

As the story unfolds, Carly strips away her repressive sexual hang-ups and gains enough confidence to actively take on her assailant. I love Sharon Stone. I love how strong, sexy and domineering she can be in flicks like BASIC INSTINCT and CASINO, and then spin it around 180 degrees and play the dainty damsel in distress just as convincingly. SLIVER may not be her best movie, but it features one of Stone’s most well-rounded performances. The fact that she sells such effortless onscreen chemistry with Billy Baldwin, despite the two reportedly disliking each other greatly, only proves this point. Stone was apparently so incensed with Baldwin on set that, during a kissing scene, she bit his tongue so badly that he couldn’t speak properly for days. Sorry Billy, but that’s badass. No Romancing The Stone for you!

Of course, we’d be remiss to omit mentioning Marty Landau, an actor that instantly makes any movie he’s in that much better. Here he has a throwaway role as one of Carly’s book associates, but it’s always damn good to see him class this sleazy tale of violent erotica up a bit. Same goes for the greatly named CCH Pounder (who oddly makes her second consecutive F*cking Black Sheep appearance after PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING), playing Lt. Victoria Hendrix, the detective assigned the high-rises murder cases. Last but actually favorite is Colleen Camp, who, as Carly’s hilarious sex-starved colleague Judy Marks, adds a much needed dose of intentional levity. The way she euphemistically chides Carly about “reloading a lead pencil” is ALWAYS good for a hearty chuckle. Colleen Camp, who’s appeared as sexy as any woman in history playing Yvette in CLUE, here takes a droll backseat to Sharon Stone’s unimpeachable sex-appeal. And does so with a gamely grin!

For all its faults, for all the letdowns of its pedigree, for all its sappy soft-core stylings, SLIVER’s hugely amusing watchability cannot be denied. And we contend that this undying entertainment value is due less in part to the directorial acumen of Noyce, and primarily derived from the raw magnetism of Sharon Stone. She absolutely owns this role, evolving from meekly unassuming, lonely and isolated to feeling confident, sexually liberated and supremely empowered. We’re telling you: perhaps this movie deserves at least a SLIVER more respect!

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Extra Tidbit: Sharon Stone is set to star in Patrick Brice's upcoming horror comedy CORPORATE ANIMALS.
Source: AITH

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