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DEAD AGAIN

Another movie that seemed quite cool upon its initial release in the early 1990s but has lost much of its luster in the ensuing decades. Mind you, DEAD AGAIN isn’t a bad movie by any means, just a silly and disposable one.

The Package
     This 1991 movie was the second feature and first Hollywood production directed by the UK’s Kenneth Branagh, following 1989’s well-received HENRY V. Like that film, this one starred Branagh himself, together with Branagh’s then-wife Emma Thompson and his mentor Derek Jacobi. Rounding out the cast are Fassbinder regular Hanna Schygulla, a pre-SEINFELD Wayne Knight and, for added star power, Andy Garcia and an uncredited Robin Williams.

The Story
     Grace is a mute amnesiac suffering from horrific nightmares and harboring an unhealthy obsession with scissors. The suave private detective Mike Church is summoned to the Catholic refuge where Grace is currently interred. Church is immediately smitten, and takes Grace back to his apartment. There he calls in a hypnotist, one Franklyn Madson, who gets Grace to speak for the first time. Madson also gets her to recall fragments of a past life in which she was one part of a dashing couple: the famous composer Roman and his glamour queen wife Margaret. Back in 1948, we learn, Margaret was stabbed to death by a pair of scissors that were apparently wielded by Roman.
     Church and Grace visit the highly eccentric ex-shrink Cozy Carlisle, who claims Grace is undergoing the “karmic credit plan,” in which past life sins are played out in one’s current incarnation. Grace comes to recognize that her relationship with Church contains many parallels with that of Roman and Margaret. Grace further suspects that Church may be gearing up for a killing similar to the one that occurred back in ‘48.
     Church is hypnotized himself, and discovers that, contrary to what was initially assumed, he is the reincarnation of Margaret, while Grace is the reincarnation of Roman. This explains Grace’s obsession with scissors, and suggests that it’s Church who may actually be in danger.
     Around this time a discovery is made: one of the participants in the 1948 killing, one Gray Baker, is still extant. Gray was Margaret’s suitor back in ’48, and is now an old man. He fills Church in on the heretofore unknown fact that Roman’s housekeeper Inga is still alive. So is Inga’s son Frankie, who, it turns out, also has a connection with the murder…

The Direction
     In DEAD AGAIN the bravura of Kenneth Branagh’s direction was toned down somewhat from his debut HENRY V, although his ostentatious touch is evident in the intricate tracking shots that make up much of the movie, and also the highly operatic finale, in which the highly bombastic score by Branagh’s stock composer Patrick Doyle is given prominence. That Branagh and Doyle are fully clued in to the inherent ridiculousness of the story is fully evident, indeed perhaps a bit too much so; leavening humor is always welcome, but the knowing, self-aware air lessens the drama. Furthermore, Branagh isn’t above inserting shameless in-jokes, such as a shot of a Life magazine cover with Lawrence Olivier as Hamlet and the setting of an action sequence on LA’s Shakespeare Bridge (both referencing Branagh’s background as a Shakespearean actor), and also the climactic spectacle of Derek Jacobi affecting the famous stutter he sported in I, CLAUDIUS (1976).
     The proceedings are further marked by a VERY exposition-heavy script by Scott Frank that positively overflows with red herrings and subplots. The gambit of presenting the 1948 scenes in black and white, at least, helps clarify what would otherwise be a confusing mess. Frank’s script is also, unfortunately, heavily reliant on coincidence (pivotal characters always have a way of turning up at opportune times) and implausibility (evident in a villain’s too-fateful long jump in the final scenes and the fact that another character inexplicably springs back to life after being shot).
     The performances, at least, are solid, with Branagh and Emma Thompson affecting convincing American accents and Branagh making for a passable romantic lead. Robin Williams of course steals every scene he’s in as the eccentric shrink Cozy Carlisle.
     All this played just fine back ‘91, but these days the whole thing feels a bit disposable, a silly and overcomplicated would-be Hitchcockian camp-fest that works best as a product of its time.

 
Vital Statistics

DEAD AGAIN
Paramount Pictures

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Producers: Lindsay Doran, Charles H. Maguire
Screenplay: Scott Frank
Cinematography: Matthew F. Leonetti
Editing: Peter E. Berger
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Andy Garcia, Derek Jacobi, Hanna Schygulla, Robin Williams, Campbell Scott, Wayne Knight, Jo Anderson, Christine Ebersole

     

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