FILMS

The Terminatrix

Brian D. Johnson December 19 1994
FILMS

The Terminatrix

Brian D. Johnson December 19 1994

The Terminatrix

FILMS

In the movies, a new kind of female predator is on the loose. Her prey is the married man with professional status. Cornering him in the workplace, she entraps him on false charges of sexual harassment, then systematically sets out to ruin his career and his marriage. Her malice seems fuelled by a volatile mix of insecurity, ambition and cockeyed feminism. But it is hard to say exactly what makes her tick. Because outside the fevered paranoia of the male

imagination, she may not exist. She is the New Bogeywoman.

Closing out 1994, the year that began with Bobbittmania, two new movies present dire cautionary tales of men victimized by vengeful women. Disclosure, based on the 1993 best-seller by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton, casts Michael Douglas as an executive who is framed for sexual harassment by his new boss, a ruthless femme fatale played by Demi Moore. And American playwright David Mamet has directed a film version of Oleanna, his controversial drama about a female student who destroys a professor’s career with wrongful allegations. (The movie is almost identical to the play, a theatrical sensation that has been ringing up box-office records at a dozen theatres across the country.)

Disclosure is a Hollywood movie with a hero, a villainess and a happy ending. Oleanna is a black-humored tragedy in which nobody wins. But in both cases, a hapless male is forced to defend himself against ludicrous

charges, and then is trapped in a conspiracy of Kafkaesque dimensions, the victim of a Terminatrix who seems programmed to annihilate him in the name of female empowerment.

For Michael Douglas, Disclosure completes an unofficial trilogy of movies in which he has played the sexually compromised victim of a female predator. But after the psycho-vixens of Fatal Attraction (1987) and Basic Instinct (1992), his enemy seems almost civilized. Instead of boiling his kid’s pet rab-

Two movies offer unlikely tales of female predators

bit or using an ice pick as a sex aid, she simply plays a mean game of office politics.

Douglas plays Tom, an executive at a Seattle-based computer firm called DigiCom. The company is heading into a merger, and Tom is looking forward to a promotion and a financial windfall. But one morning, he discovers to his horror that the promotion has gone to an outsider, an ex-girlfriend named Meredith (Moore), who is now his new boss. Meredith summons Tom to her office at the end of the day, where she has a bottle of chardonnay on ice. Soon, she is mauling him. Tom’s protestations are not entirely convincing—especially while she is giving him oral sex—but he fi-

nally throws her off. The next day, he shows up at work to learn that she has charged him with sexual harassment.

The movie is, if nothing else, more enjoyable than the book, which is painfully schematic. Director Barry Levinson (Rain Man), who co-produced the film with Crichton, has added some playful grace notes. And they have given the hero a sleazier edge, perhaps to make the casting more credible—after well-publicized reports of Douglas being treated for sexual addiction, the notion of him being forced by a beautiful woman seems faintly ridiculous. “Tommy,” says a wisecracking colleague played by Dennis Miller, “you’ve seen more ass than a rental car.”

The script is riddled with sexist one-liners (Meredith, says Tom, “doesn’t know the difference between software and a cashmere sweater”). And the protagonists’ testimony in an internal inquiry plays like a Penthouse Forum version of the Clarence Thomas hearings. A spirited supporting cast keeps things entertaining. Roma Maffia steals all her scenes as Tom’s no-nonsense lawyer, and a selfsatirizing Donald Sutherland glides through his role as Digicom’s smug president. But Douglas inspires little empathy, while Moore’s character—a serial sexual harasser—is thinner than a microchip. And as a thriller, Disclosure is anticlimactic: the big chase scene has Tom and Meredith battling for data from separate computer terminals.

Oleanna is less fanciful. But it, too, erects a wealth of clever dramatic detail on a contrived foundation as sound as the San Andreas Fault. William H. Macy and Debra Eisenstadt reprise their stage roles as John and Carol, a liberal arts professor and his student. She comes to his office in despair because she is failing his course. He lectures her, patronizes her, mocks the whole education process, and briefly consoles her by putting his hands on her shoulders. In their next scene together, he is trying to persuade her to drop charges of sexual harassment against him. John’s tenure appointment, the new house he is buying, his reputation, his job—they are all on the line.

Oleanna is scrupulously faithful to the play. The juicy dialogue is left intact with all of its nuances. But without the immediacy of live theatre, the drama seems flat. And in the movie, as in the play, Carol is a cipher, an empty vessel of anger. At first, she is unbelievably stupid. Then, brainwashed by feminists, she is unbelievably articulate. Either way, she seems merely a projection of Mamet’s own political agenda. As assaults on political correctness, both Oleanna and Disclosure purport to strike a provocative blow for humanism. But in putting the fight back into the white middle-class male, they have failed to give him a worthy adversary.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON