"Malice" is a film that very much wants to be a combination of "Body Heat" and classic Hitchcock — but how you take to it will depend on your patience with silly cliches and plot holes large enough to hide dinosaurs.
Taking a cue from "Psycho," the first half of the film leads us down a path that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie, then suddenly switches to something else. Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that some characters here are not who they seem to be — and logic goes completely by the wayside. ("Star Trek's" Spock would go nuts with this picture.)
Bill Pullman (Meg Ryan's fiance in "Sleepless in Seattle"), once again playing an ineffectual "nice guy," is the dean of a small-town college outside Boston. Pullman and his new bride (Nicole Kidman), who volunteers in the children's ward of the local hospital, spend much of their time restoring a huge Victorian home and the rest trying to get her pregnant.
Meanwhile, female students counseled by Pullman are being murdered by a serial killer, and Pullman is none too patient with the local police detective in charge (Bebe Neuwirth, whose weird Boston accent is more cartoonish than the one she affected as the wife of Dr. Frasier on TV's "Cheers"). (There are also odd but interesting cameos by a fully bearded George C. Scott, who looks like he's trying out for a remake of "Miracle on 34th Street," and Anne Bancroft, in a powerhouse turn as a surprise character.)
But the main plot kicks into gear when Pullman goes to the hospital to inquire about the latest murder victim and meets a new hot-shot trauma surgeon (Alec Baldwin, in a scene-stealing, charismatic performance that is gleefully cocky).
What follows takes a decidedly circuitous route, which at first is rather startling, though it does settle into a more predictable mode. After the first third or so, some of this complicated plotting becomes downright annoying, especially at is becomes clear that loose ends would not be tied up or explained away. This kind of thing always signals a certain contempt for the audience, as if to suggest moviegoers are so gullible they'll accept just about anything. If it's true that audiences will accept just about anything, it has more to do with how little we've come to expect from modern movies.
"Malice" is rated R for considerable violence, sex, nudity and profanity, much of it gratuitous.