blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Dead Man’s Curve (1998, Dan Rosen)

Dead Man’s Curve’s opening titles are intercut with someone meeting with Dana Delany—playing a college campus therapist—and asking questions about signs of suicidal thoughts. Delany makes a joke about how first-time efforts from writer-directors might do it. Then the title card cuts to director Rosen’s writing and directing credit. All his other references are on the nose. Some of the plot involves the latest gaming craze on campus—you write a bunch of names on scraps of paper, mix them together in a glass bowl, then your partner has to identify them–Trivial Pursuit but from when they first invented paper.

There’s a lengthy sequence where the players list off famous female actresses of the era; it’s surprising no one turned to the camera and informed the audience they were the actresses who turned down Keri Russell’s part.

For her part—no pun—Russell does almost all right. It’s a lousy, good-girl coed femme fatale part, and Russell handles a lot of it. Starts falling apart halfway through and never comes back. It’s a bummer because her performance gets more impressive just around the time Matthew Lillard’s takes off, so it seems like it’s a rising tide raises all ships type situation.

Even Lillard cannot hold on for all of Curve’s twists and turns. Rosen homages almost seventy years’ worth of thrillers but forgets he might want some sympathetic characters. While Rosen’s clearly overconfident from jump, he does have some great instincts, and it seems like—given the movie wants to take “nothing is what it seems” to the nth degree—he might pull it off.

But then Russell starts falling apart, Delany goes nowhere, and top-billed Michael Vartan finally assumes the hero spotlight. The real question of Curve is whether or not Vartan is going to be able to hold the water on his own. Rosen knows when Delany’s good; he knows the movie mostly rests on Lillard and spotlights him monologuing at least twice—Rosen knows Vartan isn’t cutting it, but nothing’s to be done. The Curve spills out of Vartan’s barely cupped hands.

And it’s not just about Vartan playing a bland white guy. Randall Batinkoff plays a bland white guy; he’s (relatively) great. Let’s say… surprisingly good. Even though he looks way too old. They’re all supposed to be college seniors; all the guys are clearly in their late twenties.

Russell’s about the right age. She’s Vartan’s girlfriend.

Tamara Marie Watson plays Batinkoff’s girlfriend. He’s terrible to her, so it’s okay his roommates are plotting to kill him. Lillard’s only got a love interest for a scene, though apparently, it’s a steady thing, so her not being around doesn’t help things.

Watson’s awful. She’s in a thankless spot—Batinkoff berates her, and all their friends ignore it because they’re all rich together, and she’s poor. So there’s this wonderful collision of misogyny, patriarchy, and classism.

The movie’s on location at a college campus but on a tight budget. The lack of scale doesn’t help things.

Kevin Ruf plays the dipshit campus cop. He’s terrible.

Dead Man’s Curve doesn’t exactly have its moments, but it has moments where it has potential. None of it pays off. Surprisingly decent soundtrack, though.

Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: