Rating: ** out of ****
I must admit to having a particular fondness for the glut of crime thrillers that lasted from the late 80s to the mid-90s. Chief among these guilty pleasures are fun movies like Harold Becker's Malice, the horribly titled Jack's Back, the Goldie Hawn flick Deceived, and the terrific Jagged Edge. 1985's The Mean Season is apparently one of the earlier entries in the beginning of this trend so it earns a few points there; otherwise, it's a pretty average effort, certainly not helped by far superior films of its ilk in the years to come.
Kurt Russell stars as Malcolm Anderson, a Miami journalist who's getting burned-out covering eight years worth of deaths. Just as he's planning to leave his job behind and move with his girlfriend (Mariel Hemingway) to Colorado, his latest assignment takes him on a wild spin. While covering the murder of a teenage girl, he receives a phone call from the girl's killer himself, who reveals that he plans to take four more victims. This soon-to-be serial killer is out for fame and wants Anderson to report his crimes and whatever bits of info he chooses to give him. But as the murders progress, the killer is dissatisfied with the media coverage, believing too much of the focus is on Anderson, and as he sees it, the only way this can be remedied is by eliminating the center of attention.
Though the film is ultimately mediocre, it does get off to an effective start. The premise is fairly interesting and an instant grabber. The filmmakers' do a good job of building some mild suspense by keeping the killer's face hidden; the voice acting for this particular character is also quite effective, occasionally reminding me of the similar voice work in Joy Ride.
But the movie never really takes off like it should. Though we're intrigued by the bits and pieces of info that are revealed by the killer, very little is ultimately revealed about his motives or his past. While this is an approach that often works (The Silence of the Lambs and Seven are perfect examples), it backfires in this case, primarily because one of the more intriguing mysteries is wondering why he's duplicating these certain murders; a lot of hints are given, but trying to piece them together doesn't add up to any satisfying answers.
Once the killer's face is revealed, a lot of the movie's charm is worn off. The guy was creepy as a voice that nobody could match a face to, but feels like a generic psycho once he's fully revealed. The film also fails to take advantage of the stormy weather that's promised in the title; what could have been an instance of great visual atmosphere is totally squandered. The same goes for the Everglades setting, which I've always found had a tinge of dread and mystery to it.
For the most part the cast is quite good, especially Kurt Russell, who's one of the few movie stars out there who can exhibit a perfect balance of charisma and emotional intensity, which he does here. He's always likable, even when we think his character could use a little more common sense. A fresh-faced Andy Garcia turns in solid support as the investigating police detective. Only Mariel Hemingway comes across as subpar, but it doesn't help that her role amounts to little more than playing damsel in distress. One also wonders why Anderson and his girlfriend weren't given stronger police protection, but that's probably just for the sake of moving the plot ahead.
Middling stuff overall, but watchable enough to be worth a viewing for Russell fans or, if you're like me, you just like to watch this kind of Hollywood thriller from the 80s (and early 90s). But as far as this genre goes, all the flicks I mentioned above are preferable to this.
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