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NADINE. Directed and written by Robert Benton; produced by Arlene Donovan for Tri-Star. Starring Kim Basinger and Jeff Bridges. Rated PG (a little vulgar language).


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If movies were prizefighters, Nadine would definitely compete in the featherweight class. It's short, and its story is as unsubstantial as a soap bubble ascending into the summer sky.

But its two stars are terrific actors with lots of personality. And, as they have been in other movies in their careers, they are better here than their material. If Nadine is worth seeing, it's because of Basinger and Bridges.

The title character (Basinger) is a beauty operator in Austin, Texas in 1954. Separated, but not completely divorced yet, from her husband Vernon (Bridges), she tries to recover some "art studies" taken of her by a local photographer. While she's at the studio, the photographer is stabbed. Nadine hears, but doesn't see, the murder.

With one thing on her mind, she gets Vernon to go back to the studio with her that night and force the lock so she can look for her photographs. Naturally, the plan ends in disaster.

Not only to they have a run-in with the police, but the folder Nadine thinks contains her pictures instead holds plans for a new highway. Her possession of these papers sets the bad guys in pursuit. And also starts Vernon, a loser with grandiose dreams, thinking about making a killing in land along the new road, too.

There are some funny scenes in Nadine, such as when Vernon and Nadine escape their pursuers in an old house. Actually, whenever the two them just carry on a conversation in their heavy, but plausible accents, they are entertaining. Out of this froth of a script, they have fashioned some real flesh-and-blood characters.

Rip Torn, as the scheming villain with the inspired name of Buford Pope, is also entertaining. But his character is a cartoon, not a real person. The same goes for the rest of the supporting cast.

The clothes and hairstyles are convincingly fifties-ish. But there are a few curious anachronisms elsewhere in the movie, such as a reference to watching TV that probably wouldn't have been made in 1954, when sets were still expensive and relatively rare.

Given the talents of its stars and the writer/director (he brought us Places in the Heart, remember?) Nadine is a disappointment. Bridges and Basinger do the best they can. But that's just not enough in the end.

September 2, 1987

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