Jacob's Ladder

Bruce Joel Rubin's 'Jacob's Ladder' was chosen by American Film a while back as one of the great unproduced screenplays. Too bad somebody had to spoil things by producing it. There is an intriguing premise: Jacob, played by Tim Robbins as if the role meant something, is a New York mailman with a PhD who is haunted by memories of being in Vietnam, where he was bayoneted in the stomach. He also has waking nightmares featuring vibrating heads and a reptile creature who feels up Jacob's girlfriend Jezzie (the criminally wasted Elizabeth Peña). Jacob is soon spinning a conspiracy theory about the army, a hallucinatory drug and a plot to kill him.

Rubin, who scripted the summer smash Ghost, has again tapped into a trendy occult theme. But Jacob's Ladder also raises fact-based questions about government drug experiments and the real Vietnam veterans who might have been affected by them. They're good questions, but they go unanswered. In the hands of ultraslick director Adrian Lyne (Flashdance, 91/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction), the film becomes nothing less and certainly nothing more than the latest in designer horror shows. There's a word for a movie that dresses up the usual cheap tricks with real human suffering and a bogus patina of truth: offensive.