by A.J. Hakari
For a belly laugh that’ll leave your gut feeling like it was used in a Rocky montage, check out a ’90s Hollywood erotic thriller sometime. To see the product of middle-aged executives in suits attempt to inform mainstream moviegoers on all things kinky and dangerous is both hilarious and almost as uncomfortable as the legitimately sleazy exploitation flicks they’re riffing on. Pictures such as Color of Night and Body of Evidence set out to be received as sexually-charged mind games, only to shuttle their casts from unexciting chase scenes to equally listless love scenes. In the end, they weren’t worth the gimmick of watching big-name stars do the nasty, a pleasure that 1993’s Sliver is all too quick to deny its audience, as well. All eyes were on this to carry on in the steamy footsteps of the previous year’s Basic Instinct, going so far as to hire that film’s writer and breakout star for one more roll in the hay. Instead, Sliver fails to work on any of its intended levels, stimulating neither the intellect nor the nether-regions when all’s said and done.
Carly Norris (Sharon Stone) just wants a fresh start. Having at long last fled a loveless marriage, she’s ready to embrace life on her own, a process whose first step involves moving into some new digs. Carly’s lucky enough to be selected for an apartment in an affluent high-rise building, a coveted united that’s to die for…literally. She doesn’t know it yet, but her new place has a terrible past, as the last tenant was a young woman who plunged to her death. The cops ruled it a suicide, but the circumstances surrounding her death are still a mystery, and as Carly’s fortune would have it, she finds herself being lusted after by two men who were intimately familiar with the deceased. As she fends off the advances of oafish novelist Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger), Carly falls increasingly under the spell of Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin), a reclusive sort who takes pleasure in coaxing out her submissive side. Both lotharios have skeletons in their respective closets, but only one is dangerous enough to be a murderer who struck once and may be thinking about doing so again.
Sliver is a graduate of the mystery movie school of thought that preaches making every character look unsavory as hell as the primary form of misdirection. This approach can work, should a film have the foresight to incorporate themes that provoke viewers and have them questioning just how morally upright they really are. The topic at hand in Sliver is voyeurism (with a dash of domination, Fifty Shades of Grey-style), but in lieu of boldly examining our fascination with seeing taboo imagery and invading the privacy of others without their knowledge, the picture dances around the subject and gives us a base-level view, at best. Its content raises no thought-provoking questions, nor does it contrive fascinating narrative avenues through which these matters could emerge and spark discussion. Sliver sure gives us a lot of big talk, but it’s skittish when it comes down to showing us its work — and when the aim of your film is to pull back the curtain on salacious sexual issues, nervous is at the top of the list of things you don’t want to appear to your audience. This becomes especially evident through our indecisively-written protagonist, a case in which the flick wants to have its cake and leer creepily at it, too. On the outset, Carly seems totally confident and self-assured, only to be portrayed as inexplicably vulnerable at random junctures, with the evidence of Zeke’s potential involvement in a handful of deaths apparently doing nothing to sway her from letting herself be willingly seduced by him. Whether it’s due more to the screenplay or Stone’s hesitance to play up characteristics that might make her look meek or frumpy, Carly is damn near impossible to relate to as a heroine, as her emotions and personality depend on whatever the plot needs them to be at that very moment.
But one can’t delegate all of the blame onto Stone’s shoulders, for Sliver‘s sucking is the result of a team effort. I’d be remiss if I left out the way a very pipsqueaky Baldwin issues Carly demands to see her lingerie in public with the affectation of a middle-schooler asking the lady from the 1-900 number what she’s wearing. He isn’t sexually intimidating in the slightest, and while Berenger fares pretty well at playing a meathead alpha male, that the movie pretends even for a second that he’s a possible romantic rival and not just a glorified red herring is a knee-slapping notion all its own. Aside from Colleen Camp hamming it up as Carly’s foul-mouthed and aggressively invasive secretary, there isn’t much to say about the supporting cast. People like Martin Landau and CCH Pounder hang around, but they haven’t a thing to do except walk into frame, mutter a few lines of rushed exposition, then swiftly depart so the leads can hop in the sack for yet another godawfully boring screw session. For a film built so much upon the idea of tapping into hidden passions, Sliver displays an alarming lack of concern for itself in nearly every department. Joe Eszterhas’ dialogue is cringingly inept, sex scenes fizzle out long before the actors finish with their forced grunting, and the mystery aspect of the plot is so by-the-books and paid so little mind in the long run, viewers are seldom given opportunities to perch themselves on the edges of their seats. It’s an all-too flaccid experience, one that puts an awful lot of effort into seeming as though it has something with which to tease us but can’t hang onto our attention once the foreplay wears off.
Without even the sort of rampant nuttiness that makes people watch Color of Night with their jaws agape, Sliver ends up cooling our blood down rather than raise it to any meaningful degree. This here is the worst kind of “erotic” cinema, a plodding endeavor that thinks a few bared breasts and hushed inquests as to the status of one’s naughtiness are enough to render it scandalous. Though some films of its ilk are so ridiculously sleazy that all you can do it laugh at them, Sliver is just a boring poser you’re glad to be rid of when the final credits mercifully start to crawl.
(NOTE: This review refers to the unrated DVD cut of Sliver.)