Welcome to the age of the smoke bomb. A while back (when no one had seen it) the movie "Sliver" seemed to have it all: stars who hated each other! A ratings controversy! No ending whatsoever! These are the things that hits are made of. Paramount did not preview "Sliver" until the night before it opened. The studio claimed that the movie wasn't finished. More likely, Paramount was making an end run around reviews that would spoil that box-office love-in known as "opening weekend." The "Sliver" publicity campaign has been a state-of-the-art exercise in style over substance, in teasing over pleasing. Says Richard Heffner, the beleaguered chairman of the industry's ratings board, "In a word, it's bull."
Director Phillip Noyce has made a dull, dopey thriller. Based on Joe Eszterhas's adaptation of a best-selling Ira Levin novel, it stars Sharon Stone as Carly Norris, a Manhattan book editor who moves into the "Horror Highrise." Tenants jump out windows, slip in the shower and get stabbed in the stairwell. Meanwhile, Norris is courted by the boorish novelist Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger) and the sleepyeyed computer whiz Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin). She beds down with the latter, who turns out to be a superfreaky voyeur with a bank of television monitors as big as a Sears showroom.
From the beginning, the "Sliver" monster was driven by the tired but true notion that sex sells. "It's a smart campaign," says one veteran movie marketer. "They're playing it right by highlighting Sharon Stone as a victim of voyeurism. That's why we go to the movies: to see Sharon Stone naked." The "Sliver" ads bottom-fish for our most basic instincts-"You like to watch, don't you"-so let's play tit for tat. Baldwin bares his chest, legs and butt, in the offhand style popularized by Mel Gibson. Stone gives us her all, or most of it, but usually in a darkened room and from a distance. The stars were reportedly at odds during filming and, while that may set media tongues wagging, it makes for bad screen sex. Stone tries to be weepy and real, but she gets slimed by the movie's take on lovemaking, which is that all good sex begins with a breaking and entering.
The ratings fracas that surrounded "Sliver" appears to have been a textbook case of studio hype. To win the coveted R, it seems, the "Sliver" team had to edit a bathtub sequence, darken a sex scene involving a pillar and excise a few troublesome male appendages. By complaining loud and long, the studio whipped up a titillating controversy that would boost ticket sales and, one day, help send the "director's cut" video into heavy rotation. Did somebody say "Basic Instinct"? Or "Body of Evidence"? Producer Robert Evans claims the ratings board couldn't handle the voyeurism theme, but Heffner thinks he's being high and mighty: "We don't give a shit about anybody's theme."
What about "Sliver's" much-touted voyeurism? What about Phillip Noyce's ominous claim that "We are all voyeurs." Let's put it this way: when bigname stars strip for surveillance cameras, it's called "pushing the envelope," but when B-movie types do the same, it's called "Night Eyes 2." The couplings that flash by on Zeke Hawkins's monitors are sad, freakish, anything but erotic. Late in the film, when Carly Norris does a Thelma & Louise in Zeke's control room and tells him to "get a life," she's indicting the movie's marketing team, as well as any audience member who hasn't up and walked.
Fear not: it's impossible to ruin "Sliver's" ending because somebody else got there first. Test audiences were said to have bristled at the movie's original conclusion, thereby fanning the publicity fires a wee bit higher. ("Fatal Attraction," anyone?) Eszterhas's new ending shortcircuits the movie's tenuous logic. It even fingers a different villain, which means that at the eleventh hour somebody finally got around to telling the killer he was the killer. Ah, the life of the Method actor!
By the time this article appears, "Sliver" will likely have grossed $15 million. In the current Harper's Magazine, Mark Gill, of Columbia Pictures, says of marketing a film: "It doesn't matter if the movie doesn't deliver. If you can create the impression that the movie delivers, you're fine." As for "Sliver," Evans says, "I'm proud of it. It will have an impact. It won't go unnoticed." If only, Mr. Evans. If only.
He led Paramount through "Chinatown" and "The Godfather" before a cocaine bust sent his reputation to the lower depths. Now he's back in business with his old studio.
Screenwriter best known for an adventure in the skin trade, "Basic Instinct:' Eszterhas usually gets $3 million for an original script; he reportedly took less than $1 million to adapt "Silver.''
An Australian director whose thriller "Dead Calm" introduced Nicole Kidman to audiences north of the equator. Last year he played "Patriot Games."