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All That Chazz

Lou Goldman

All's Cher in Love and War: Cher drives to her destiny in Paul Mazursky's new farce, "Faithful."

Cher and Chazz Palminteri wrestle with fate and love in Paul Mazursky's new film, 'Faithful'

By Richard von Busack

Pity you can't buy into an undervalued director in the same way that you can buy into an undervalued stock on the exchange. Paul Mazursky, who is unfashionably old and whose last movie, The Pickle, went straight to video, is the kind of director one could practically pick up for a song. Younger fans won't be old enough to remember his debut, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)--and in Hollywood terms, the near-classic 1989 Enemies, A Love Story was a long time ago.

How good is Mazursky? He's the only director (besides Jean-Luc Godard) Woody Allen has acted for in the last 20 years; now that Allen is back in style, mightn't Mazursky get another chance? He certainly deserves it on the basis of Faithful, a movie that's funnier, deeper and more honest than Mighty Aphrodite.

Mazursky's antifarce features a triangle of a captive housewife, her cheating husband and an uncertain hit man. The roles change and broaden as you watch them; the characters, deluding themselves and each other, are forced into a little more truthfulness, sometimes at gunpoint.

Cher stars as a rabbit who captures the hunter. Her Maggie is a mask of tragedy under a frizzy peruke of hennaed hair. It's her 20th anniversary, and her husband Jack's (Ryan O'Neal) infidelity and her own loneliness have driven her to the brink of suicide.

Before she can take the pills, however, she's ambushed in her huge, empty mansion by Tony (Chazz Palminteri, who also wrote the play on which the film is based), a hit man. Tony explains that Jack is having her snuffed for the insurance money and that he's been hired to do the job--to make it look like a home invasion complete with a rape.

Faithful isn't a thriller, though, for two reasons. First, Maggie, already terminally unhappy, has no real dread of death; Tony is just saving her the work. Second, we seriously doubt that Tony, for all his bluster, can carry out the murder, let alone the rape. Even though he's a professional hit man, he admits he's never killed a woman before. He's in terrible crisis and in constant telephone contact with his shrink, Dr. Howard Susskind (Mazursky), from whom he gets free sessions in exchange for the gambling markers on which Susskind has welshed.

Tony, who comes in with all of the fury of a scorned lover, is working himself up to kill a cheating wife, which is what he thinks Maggie is. His righteousness depends on his idea that faithfulness is all a scam, that couples are faithful out of fear of mutually assured destruction. Under Maggie's questioning, Tony's own superiority crumbles (he was married once, faithful, as he says, "for two years ... except for blow jobs").

Palminteri has Antonio Banderas' quality as a gangster; they are both post-bad asses. They know exactly how to act like tough killers, but they're too neurotic to believe in their own cockiness. Neither of them evinces any sign of having wanted power for its own sake; and having power, both really would rather relinquish it to settle down with a nice girl.

O'Neal delivers a fine depiction of boyishness moldering into senility. You can imagine Jack as one of the Brothers McMullen grown into deep middle age, still preferring death to divorce. Cher excels in a role that calls on her to use her bare feet and legs as much as her deeply wounded eyes and voice to contrast her character's misery with her stirring lust.

Even the ending, which is smooth to the point of slickness, can't rob the pleasure of discovering a mature sensuality in Cher. This newfound quality makes her as forceful a performer as Anjelica Huston was in Mazursky's hands in Enemies, A Love Story, changing from a crushed woman to an arousing one.

Faithful (R; 91 min.), directed by Paul Mazursky, written by Chazz Palminteri, photographed by Fred Murphy and starring Cher and Palminteri.

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From the April 4-10, 1996 issue of Metro

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