I wasnít terribly impressed
with this Buenos Aires-set psychological thriller when it first played back in
1990, and it hasnít improved a whole lot in the succeeding years. It contains
solid performances and a compelling atmosphere, but otherwise itís a mess.
APARTMENT ZERO (1988) is best remembered nowadays as a product of the 1989
United States (now Sundance) Film Festival, from which Steven Soderbergís
seminal SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE also emerged (Soderberg, FYI, provides a
commentary for Anchor Bayís APARTMENT ZERO DVD). A US-financed South American
production, it was an early directorial effort by the Argentine-born Martin
Donovan, who also directed the made-for-TV shocker THE SUBSTITUTE (1993). The
co-writer and producer was David Koepp, a future Hollywood big shot (subsequent
writing credits include JURASSIC PARK and A STIR OF ECHOES) whoíd just gotten
out of film school. Two mid-level stars were chosen to headline the film: the
British Colin Firth, coming off Milos Foremanís VALMONT, and the American Hart
Bochner, best known at the time for a supporting role in DIE HARD (and nowadays
for directing 1993ís PCU).
Those who know this film only through its VHS and early DVD
incarnations should be aware that several minutes were excised by Martin Donovan
himself. Thus, only the 2006 Anchor Bay Special Edition DVD contains the film
in its 124-minute ďOriginal Theatrical Version.Ē Not that this improves the
content, but it is worth noting.
Adrian is a severely closed-off, isolated film geek who runs a repertory
movie theater in his native city of Buenos Aires (although he desperately tries
to pass himself off as British). Finding himself in financial straights, Adrian
is forced to find a roommate. Enter Jack, an American playboy who inflames
Adrianís none-too-repressed homosexuality. He becomes unnaturally attached to
Jack, and tries to dissuade him from chasing skirts and socializing with the
other tenants of their apartment building.
Jack pays Adrian no mind, and takes to seducing many of
the apartmentís tenants--including a transvestite! But thereís a murderer afoot
in the city, and Adrian finds himself growing increasingly suspicious of his
shady friendís activities, especially after Adrian learns that Jackís stated
computer job is a sham, and discovers a stash of photos depicting Jack posing
with members of a notorious Argentine death squad.
From there Jack tries to flee the country with Adrianís passport but
fails. He kills a gay man in an effort to procure his passport but fails
once again in his efforts. In the meantime Adrian is attacked by his neighbors
in the mistaken belief that heís the local serial killer. Jack returns
home in time to save Adrian from certain death, and commits yet another
murder--while in the meantime Adrian loses his mind.
Martin Donovan clearly possessed an abundance of moviemaking savvy. For
roughly the first 60 of APARTMENT ZEROíS 124 minutes itís an absorbing viewing
experience, boasting a stylish yet unselfconscious filmmaking technique. The
performances of Colin Firth and Hart Bochner are top-notch, and the atmosphere
is subtly menacing, with a clear promise of dark deeds to come.
Those dark deeds do arrive, but in less-than-invigorating fashion.
Regardless of how talented a filmmaker Donovan is, he still needs a tight script
to work his magic, and David Koeppís screenplay was anything but tight. The
second half in particular is a jumble, with the narrative splintering off in
several directions, all transparently derived from films like
THE TENANT (the
protagonistís neighbors ganging up on him), THE SERVENT (the ever-shifting
master-subordinate relationship between Firth and Bochner), PERFORMANCE (the way
the mismatched central characters bond and eventually swap personalities) and
PSYCHO (a loony Firth cavorting with a corpse).
The concept of a film constructed of spare parts from
other movies certainly didnít originate with APARTMENT ZERO (and definitely
didnít end with it), but it does stand as a model of why such an approach is,
generally speaking, not a great idea. Donovan had some real-life concerns,
including a political angle he was trying to impart in the pointed death squad
subplot, but theyíre all-but subsumed by his film geek posturing.
The Summit Company, Ltd.
Director: Martin Donovan
Producers: Martin Donovan, David Koepp
Screenplay: Martin Donovan, David Koepp
Cinematography: Miguel Rodriguez
Editing: Conrad M. Gonzalez
Cast: Colin Firth, Hart Bochner, Liz Smith, Dora Bryan, Fabrizio Bentivoglio,
James Telfer, Mirella DíAngelo, Juan Vitali, Francesca Daloja, Miguel Ligero,
Elvia Andreoli, Marikena Monti, Cipe Lincovsky