Say this for Malice, a thriller with a vengeance: It’s got more surprises than Heidi Fleiss. The setting is a New England college town — the women’s college is actually Smith, but mysteriously, nobody calls it that. Andy Safian (played by Bill Pullman) is a dean whose gorgeous wife, Tracy (Nicole Kidman), cracks jokes about the little boy in the next-door window who stares at them having sex. Make sure you file that clue away. Life takes a few more twists when Andy’s students start getting raped and murdered with an alarming frequency.
Enter Jed Hill (a manic Alec Baldwin), the new surgeon in town. Dr. Jed is a lady-killer of the old-fashioned variety: He never met a nurse under 40 he didn’t boff. It turns out Jed went to school with Andy; now he’s paying rent at the Safians’ to help them afford renovations on their Victorian love nest. One night Tracy is stricken with abdominal pains. Jed operates, removing a sick ovary — and then the healthy one. Tracy hires a handsome lawyer (Peter Gallagher) and sues, while Andy learns a dark secret from a sexy cop, played by Bebe Neuwirth with a bizarre Boston accent. Everybody fights. And that’s just for starters.
Goaded on by writer Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men), who could run a red-herring factory, the actors work to keep you guessing long after you’ve caught on. No one shows any shame about going over the top, especially Anne Bancroft in an Oscar-begging cameo as Tracy’s mother. Perhaps director Harold Becker thought flashy acting could distract us from the gaping plot holes. Becker gets so intent on confusing us, he forgets to give us characters to care about, the way he did in Sea of Love with Al Pacino. Malice is way out of that classy league. It’s got suspense but no staying power.