Oxygen

on November 05, 1999 by Mike Kerrigan
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   Detective Madeline Foster is having a rough day. After a fleeing felon uses her for target practice she unwinds with a bout of rough--make that sadistic--sex with a mystery lover and copious amounts of alcohol. All of which hardly makes her a suitable candidate to solve a kidnapping, especially as the person heading up the investigation is her unsuspecting husband. But she throws herself into the case and in the process finds she has to confront her own demons in order to have any chance at rescuing the victim who has been buried alive, with a limited oxygen supply, by her captors.
   The plot unfolds with few surprises, it sags badly in the middle and the ending is a pretty much foregone conclusion. But the film is essentially saved by a couple of superb acting jobs.
   Maura Tierney ("Primary Colors") plays the flawed cop with an agonizing honesty. In a better movie there would be talk of awards. It is a raw performance, full of human frailty and grim determination. She is not afraid to play the role flat-out and look less than fetching. But in the process she creates a truly memorable character.
   Her sparring partner is the kidnapper, played by Adrien Brody ("Summer of Sam"), who goes by the name of Harry in homage to his hero Houdini. By turns, Brody plays him with charm and menace, with a definite streak of insanity lurking just beneath the surface. As in most great drama teams, Tierney and Brody bring out the best in each other. Their performances could easily have made a great two-handed stage play.
   The story, however, has holes that you could drive a truck through. A cop involved in a shooting would never be given another immediate assignment and an FBI team would never leave a confessed murderer alone with a interrogator no matter how much she asked-- especially a Houdini fan who's already shown he can get out of a pair of handcuffs. But those two performances, plus some able support, make it all pretty much worthwhile.    Starring Maura Tierney and Adrien Brody. Directed and written by Richard Shepard. Produced by Jonathan Stern, Richard Shapard, Carole Curb Nemoy and Mike Curb. A Unapix release. Crime drama. Rated R for violence and language. Running time: 92 min.
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