Let's face it: the movie industry has been drowning in testosterone for some time. The emergence of Sigourney Weaver as an iconic action hero in the Alien films answered a need moviegoers didn't even know they had. Weaver as the tough center of an action thriller is reason enough to see the movie, but Copycat goes one better, giving Weaver equal billing with everyone's favorite Southern spitfire, Holly Hunter. Teaming up these heavyweights is the genius notion of Copycat, a solid serial-killer thriller elevated by phenomenal acting.
Weaver plays Dr. Helen Hudson, a criminal psychologist with a specialization in serial killers. Giving a guest lecture to a rapt audience of collegians, Hudson establishes—with tongue in cheek—that all white males between the ages of twenty and thirty-five are likely suspects when it comes to serial killing; this clever bit of business informs the rest of the film, as the female heroes sem to be surrounded by—you guessed it—white males between the ages of twenty and thirty-five (as such, the audience is encouraged to look at all the men, even the most innocent ones, with paranoid suspicion). Following her lecture, Hudson endures an attack at the hands of former subject Daryll Lee Cullum (Harry Connick, Jr.); though she survives, she is rendered agoraphobic. When we find her thirteen months later, she is a prisoner of her own San Francisco apartment, ministered to by her safely gay assistant Andy (John Rothman).
Downtown, San Francisco Homicide Inspector M. J. Monahan (Hunter) begins to suspect she has a serial killer on her hands. After receiving anonymous advice over the phone, M.J.figures out that she's dealing with Hudson and, along with her partner Reuben Goetz (Dermot Mulroney), seeks out the doctor. What M.J. and Reuben find is a neurotic, borderline-alcoholic pill-popper prone to panic attacks, but they also cannot miss Hudson's criminological genius, and so begins a prickly partnership aimed at bringing down a killer. Hudson and Monahan quickly discover that the killer (William McNamara)—whose identity the film never hides from the audience—has an unusual pattern: each murder recreates the crime scene of a notorious serial killer (Albert DeSalvo, The Hillside Strangler, David Berkowitz, and so on); well aware of Hudson, the killer begins taunting her with sick pranks, entering and exiting her apartment at will.
The script credited to Ann Biderman & David Madsen shows a genuine interest in psychology, and throws at least two good curveballs. Hudson's agoraphobia makes a nice analog for Audrey Hepburn's blindness in Wait Until Dark: a handicap to overcome while being stalked by a killer. Hudson's reliability is, of course, also compromised by her substance abuse and, perhaps more troublingly, her reservoirs of fear and rage. Though ostensibly undamaged, Monahan is no less complex—like Hunter's character in Broadcast News, M.J. struggles to give her femininity room to operate amidst the strength necessary to be taken seriously in a man's world ("God, you are one pushy broad," says her lieutenant; "I'll take that as a compliment, sir," she replies). M.J.'s career approach proves an obstacle to her love life, which once featured co-worker and still-pining ex Det. Nicoletti (Will Patton).
Putting these two characters—and two actors—into simultaneous opposition and partnership makes for fascinating friction, exacerbated by Helen's attraction to and M.J.'s complicated feelings for Reuben. Ego and anxiety prod the two into verbal shoving matches, but they develop a fast-growing mutual respect in answer to each other's intelligence and ultra-competence. Without ever once getting cuddly, they become something close to friends. English director Jon Amiel (the BBC's legendary The Singing Detective)—shooting in the shadow of the Zodiac—gives the picture high creep-out style, embracing the luridness of the material without dumbing down the focus on the leading characters or neglecting the script's insistent wittiness (an effective score by Christopher Young adds immeasurably to the unsettling mood). In sum, Copycat makes for a reasonably tight, highly engaging, unpretentious thriller, marked by killer performances.
[Full disclosure: back in my college years, I signed up to be an "extra" on this film, so this critic is, in fact, in the film for a few seconds. One hopes one can still be objective about the film's merits...]
Warner gives Copycat its Blu-ray debut in a budget release built around a dated hi-def transfer. The image is mediocre in all departments: blah contrast, flat depth, so-so detail. The image probably makes its best improvements over DVD in the area of color, which now appears a bit more vivid, and it should be said that detail has also sharpened up a bit over standard def. Still, it's unfortunate that this aging transfer doesn't hold up to ones of more recent vintage (though, I suppose, understandable that Warner didn't pop for a new one for this title). The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix impresses considerably more, maximizing the original source materials with clear dialogue, full-bodied music cues, and potent effects, though immersion is somewhat limited.
Happily, WB has retained the DVD commentary by director Jon Amiel, who does a decent job of noodling his way through the film in his plummy English tones. Also on hand is the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (1:56, HD).
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer