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Film review: Sleeping With the Enemy

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"Sleeping with the Enemy" is the latest star vehicle for Julia Roberts, an OK thriller with some terrific ideas and a storyline that progresses well much of the way but lacks originality and character depth.

And there are, unfortunately, too many ill-thought-out aspects of the kind that often cripple suspense thrillers these days — not to mention that modern horror staple, "the killer-who-wouldn't-die" at the end.

The story has Roberts married to the ridiculously meticulous Patrick Bergin ("Mountains of the Moon"), who, it is obvious from the outset, has her under his thumb. If he wants her to wear the black dress, she wears it. If he wants to go out to dinner rather than eat her freshly dug clams, they go out.

What's more, the towels in the bathroom of their immaculate Cape Cod beach house must be perfectly lined up and the cans in the cupboard must face forward and be stacked neatly.

Then we see Bergin physically abusing Roberts as he strikes her because he is jealous (without reason, of course), knocking her to the ground. He then kicks her while she's down.

So, after six months of silent plotting, she escapes his clutches by feigning her own death and catching a Greyhound Bus headed for a small town in Iowa. There, she tentatively strikes up a relationship with her next-door neighbor (Kevin Anderson), who teaches drama at the local college.

But Bergin, of course, is not easily put off. And once he surmises that she is indeed alive, he eventually tracks her down.

Much of this is easily accepted but every now and then something happens that prompts a question of logic: Wouldn't someone as meticulous as Bergin notice if his wife was keeping thousands of dollars out of their accounts? Why does Roberts try to flush her ring down the toilet instead of simply tossing it from the bus window? Why does Bergin take the time to rearrange the pantries of Roberts' Iowa home when he finally finds her? And doesn't someone who collects a paycheck need a social security number — one that is not attached to a person who has been declared dead?

Roberts and Bergin's performances are the saving graces here, and Joseph Rubin directs in an edgy style that also worked well in his earlier films "The Stepfather" and "True Believer." But the script, by Ronald Bass ("Rain Man," "Black Widow"), lets them down with occasional idiotic red herrings and plot twists that become more and more implausible.

Still, if you're a Roberts fan, here's an opportunity to see her project a range of emotions — and she does quite well. Too bad it's not in the service of a better film.

"Sleeping with the Enemy" is rated R for violence, sex, a few scattered profanities and a brief nude shot of Bergin.