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Bad and Bland

Sam Emerson

To the Point: John Cusack and Kevin Spacey admire some fine old Savannah silverware in 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.'

Clint Eastwood's 'Midnight ...' is swollen with exposition

By Richard von Busack

READ THE BOOK, burn the movie. Kevin Spacey seemed like a natural to play the wealthy, shoe-button-eyed antihero James Williams, a sort of gay Jay Gatsby (although John Berendt's book owes more to Martha Stewart than to F. Scott Fitzgerald). Among the many faults of the film version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is its robbing the audience of views of those grand buildings in Savannah, Ga. Clint Eastwood's tedious direction is unfaithful to the book, and yet the movie is swollen with exposition--not like a film of a book, more like a film of an audio tape of a book.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is not a love story; it's certainly not a courtroom drama--and despite where Eastwood tries to take the film, it's not a tale of revenge from beyond the grave. Voodoo is a cuddly religion here: really, it's all about learning to love yourself. The popularity of the book must be due to the nostalgia value of its coyly closeted tone (not since the prime of Truman Capote has there been such tiptoeing around). This film could have been another Gilda, so screenwriter John Lee Hancock's saddest impulse was in adding a female love interest--Alison Eastwood, bidding to become the next Sofia Coppola. As John Kelso, a figure standing in for Berendt, John Cusack is a naif who has to turn his gaze to heaven when the decadence gets to be too much for him. He finds out about a kept man! and a transsexual!! (Kelso is supposed to be a New Yorker, too.)

The star of the book, the transvestite performer known as The Lady Chablis, has had her role significantly expanded. Seeing her stage show, all you can think is that the tourists deserve her. Still, she's playing herself, and at least her amateurish acting chips away at the dull surface of this botch. Spacey himself gives his least interesting performance in years; he's stiff as an ingenue under Eastwood's stultifying direction.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (R; 135 min.), directed by Clint Eastwood, written by John Lee Hancock, based on the book by John Berendt and starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack.

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From the Nov. 20-26, 1997 issue of Metro.

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