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By Merle Bertrand | May 3, 1999

It’s a treacherous line between cleverness and too much cutseyness for your own good. Unfortunately, Roland Joffe’s would-be noirish dark comedy “Goodbye Lover” usually winds up on the wrong side of that line.
Hunky Ben (Don Johnson) and boozy Jake Dunmore (Dermot Mulroney) are brothers who’re both senior executives at pricey advertising firm Icomage. But that’s not the only thing they have in common. While Jake flirts with pretty and demure junior executive Peggy Blaine (Mary-Louise Parker), she has a crush on Ben.
Meanwhile, Jake’s ultra sexy femme fatale wife Sandra (Patricia Arquette) is doing the nasty with her brother-in-law in the church choir loft, her real estate clients’ homes, and all sorts of other interesting places. When Jake learns of his wife’s extracurricular activities, he launches into an apparent suicidal rage that quickly turns murderous when he helps Ben plummet to an horrific death from the balcony… with Sandra’s help. Apparently “crimes of passion” takes on a whole new definition when $4 million dollars of insurance money are at stake. Jake and Sandra’s teary report doesn’t fool Ellen DeGeneres’ cynical police detective for a moment, however. Soon she and her dimwitted yokel of a partner are hot on a trail that twists, turns and does more flip-flops on the way to its all-too predictable ending than a candidate on a campaign trail.
And it’s about as believable. It’s one thing to misdirect your audience. It’s another thing entirely to deliberately mislead them, then smugly start lobbing major plot curve balls at them. Sure, I was tricked once, but then my guard went up. As the characters’ alliances shifted at will, I simply shifted into idle and just wearily waited for the film’s wild narrative flailing about to finish.
And then there was DeGeneres, whose trying-way-too-hard, non-detecting detective scenes were almost physically painful to watch. Give these same ironic hard-bitten lines to a certified wiseass like Mel Gibson, and they’d work as much-needed comic relief. But here, even in the hands of an otherwise accomplished satiric comedienne like DeGeneres, they fall jarringly flat.
“Goodbye Lover” looks great. Lots of angling shadows and gorgeous beauty shots, especially of Arquette who bears a striking resemblance to “Bladerunner”‘s Pris. But in the end, great looks couldn’t compensate for this convoluted, predictable and contrived storyline.

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