One would have thought that Vice Squad would be about victimless crimes. But it is so only tangentially: the main character is a prostitute, and we are treated to a series of encounters between her and her clients exhibiting some of their flakier peccadillos. Most of the film, however, isn't about this at all but about a sadist who has escaped custody and tries to track her down to torture and kill her. A certain amount of suspense is involved in his pursuit of her, which provides most of what interest there is in the film, but the crimes delineated are by no means victimless. It's just another tale of violence and revenge, not nearly as well done as in a thousand previous films.
Making Love, Personal Best
Two recent films deal with homosexual affairs, not exploitatively but openly and honestly. In Making Love, a physician (Michael Ontkean) gradually discovers in himself an attraction to a successful writer (Harry Hamlin), and the problem is how to reveal all this to his wife (Kate Jackson). The inner conflict is so prolonged that the audience becomes impatient and wants the doctor to get on with it. The characters, however, are mere outlines, symbols of types, increasing the difficulty of identifying with them. And it's all very "upper-class": all the characters are surrounded by the trappings of wealth. This film does for sexual relations what Guess Who's Coming to Dinner did for racial relations: unconventional actions aren't so bad if you've already achieved material success in life. But what if you haven't?
Personal Best is a much better film: the characters are more fully delineated, and the plot doesn't creak. The situation of one female athlete (Muriel Hemingway) falling in love with another is presented with sympathy and intelligence. But the film is much too long: apparently the director could not resist the temptation to include lots of footage that should have ended up on the cutting-room floor. Again and again the action is stopped cold when it should have been propelled forward.
The Border is built along the lines of a classic tragedy. It has to do with the fate of Mexican illegal immigrants and their treatment at the hands of the El Paso border patrol. Jack Nicholson turns in one of his better performances, and the film is interesting both sociologically and dramatically.
Shoot the Moon
Shoot the Moon has two excellent performances by its costars, Albert Finney and Diane Keaton, locked in a hopeless marriage with four irresistible small daughters. There is considerable psychological power in this film, and the best scenes are the quiet ones, in which a small daughter tries to discern why her father would go out with another woman, or another daughter gains some small insight into the feelings of her mother, the rejected wife in a love-triangle. But every time such a quietly effective scene occurs, its power is dissipated by some harum-scarum scene of violent overt action that doesn't ring true and spoils the effect of what has preceded.
Concerning the plot of Deathtrap there is almost nothing that can be said that wouldn't give away the whole show. Based on a play by Ira Levin, it is certainly different from the usual run of Sidney Lumet's work. The film plays a chess game with the audience, and the plot is full of surprises. Michael Caine, Dyan Cannon, and Christopher Reeve are all fascinating to watch, and the whole thing is fun, sort of: the fact that it is a series of calculated gimmicks without the slightest social or psychological interest may deter some viewers and intrigue others. "Interesting but instantly forgettable" is the quickest way to sum up this film.
John Hospers is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. His recent books are Understanding the Arts and Human Conduct (2nd ed.).
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Movies".