January 03, 2011

MOVIES: Frankie & Alice (Geoffrey Sax, 2010)

Do you remember that brief moment a few years back when we thought we might have to take Halle Berry seriously as an actress? Heck, they even gave her an Oscar, and then she disappeared into a bunch of crappy superhero movies.

Well, she's back, and she wants to be taken seriously again in Frankie & Alice, which gives her a great big Oscar-baity role: a stripper who has not only a heart of gold, but multiple personalities, too.

Sadly, there is nothing about this movie that deserves to be taken seriously. It's set in 1973, and looks as if that were when it was filmed; it's ugly and cheap-looking, like a low-grade Lifetime movie. The story is a tawdry melodrama about forbidden love, traumatic death, and a mother's cruelty (Phylicia Rashad plays Berry's mother in embarrassing style, with less subtlety than the average Disney wicked witch).

The challenge for any actor playing multiple personalities is to make each of the alters feel like a real person; Berry's alters are flat caricatures. Her brainy little girl is all squeaky voice and squint; the characterization of her southern belle (who happens to be white, and viciously racist) doesn't go beyond a cartoonish accent.

Even Stellan Skarsgard, as Berry's therapist, brings nothing of interest to his role. He's been given one or two personality quirks -- he likes jazz and did a lot of acid in the 60s -- in lieu of an actual character.

This is a wretched mess of a movie. Skip it at all cost.

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