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Kiss the Bridle: Sharon Stone tries her hand at horse-whispering.

Horse Play

The past catches up with three friends in 'Simpatico'

By Richard von Busack

YOU CAN THINK OF SIMPATICO as another one of the adventures of Nick Nolte, mendicant--the least of them, after his wanderings through Down and Out in Beverly Hills and Affliction. Simpatico is based on a minor Sam Shepard play about the conflict between a pair of lapsed buddies; the scheme could be traced back to Cain and Abel, but it's really more easily traced to True West, Shepard's far-superior play with the same dynamic between the leads.

Simpatico is about the troubles between the culpable but socially smooth Carter (Jeff Bridges) and Vinnie, a nigh-wino (Nolte). The two were partners in a horse-switching and blackmail scam years before. Now Carter is a successful and respected Kentucky horse-breeder, dogged by Nolte's bad conscience. Some fancy widescreen visuals duel with clumsy flashbacks by first-time director Matthew Warchus; a score by Stewart Copeland tries hard to jolt the story into tension. But the film can't be helped, either by Albert Finney, as a beefy, lecherous horse commissioner, or Sharon Stone, as a wistful neurotic wife, or even by Catherine Keener. Keener, late of Being John Malkovich, plays a half-bright cashier kidnapped into Nolte's scheme. Keener is so miscast that even the cat on her lap looks miscast.

Shepard's dialogue, frequently adroit and insinuating, sounds canned in this movie, like memories of late-show hard-boiled repartee. I got really impatient with the way everything was laid on the line, either through flat statement or with eight-and-a-half-months pregnant omissions. An example, by Finney: "I don't give two shits about these festering souls and all their dirty laundry." I wouldn't go that far, but I was glad to see the back of this.

Simpatico (R; 106 min.) written and directed by Matthew Warchus, based on a play by Sam Shepard, photographed by John Toll, and starring Nick Nolte, Sharon Stone, Jeff Bridges, Albert Finney and Catherine Keener, opens Fri in Mountain View at Century Cinema 16 and in San Jose at Century 25.

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From the February 3-9, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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