Somewhere buried deep within Linda Yellen’s “The Simian Line” lurks a potentially interesting film. Mind you, not exactly an original one; its seriocomic path circling a number of couples in crises has been been traveled before, most recently in 1998’s “Playing by Heart”). Directly across the river from the hustle and bustle of New York City lies the small New Jersey town of Weehawken, where Sandra (Cindy Crawford) and Paul (Jamey Sheridan), marrieds with Big Apple ambitions, have just moved next door to a house occupied by two couples: unmarried twentysomethings Marta (Monica Keena) and Billy (Dylan Bruno), who are the tenants of the home’s owner, Katharine (Lynn Redgrave), who has a much younger live-in love, artist Rick (Harry Connick Jr.). These pairs’ bliss comes to an end at a fateful Halloween party where a kooky psychic named Arnita (Tyne Daly) boldly declares that by year’s end, one of the couples will no longer be together.
Yellen’s premise is certainly a workable one, and while the couples’ ensuing dramas unfold in a predictable manner, the likable actors are able to make them fairly involving, and Yellen often strikes the right chord of plaintive romantic longing. Particularly effective is Redgrave, who intimately brings to life Katharine’s insecurities about her age (among other things) as she finds Rick becoming increasingly close friends with Sandra. Speaking of that character, Crawford proves her “Fair Game” detractors wrong by delivering a nicely natural and nuanced performance–though the specter of that infamous Joel Silver production still lingers in the air, for Yellen (thankfully) doesn’t resist the urge–quite thankfully at that–to give the supermodel a gratuitous nude bathing scene.
Given how much Yellen does right, it’s all the more shameful that she so spectacularly sinks her film in the foot with one hugely questionable “creative” decision: adding a pair of ghosts into the mix. In Katharine’s house linger two spirits: Katherine’s grandfather Edward (William Hurt), a Southern gentleman awaiting the arrival of his estranged wife’s spirit; and Mæ (Samantha Mathis), a free-spirited ’20s showgirl who was gunned down in her prime. These two characters and their storyline is an intrusive waste, serving no real purpose other than to annoy the audience by interrupting the flow of anything it will care the slightest bit about–and hence ruining the entire viewing experience.