It used to be said of anything that sounded overwrought and over-writerly that it “smelled of the lamp” — because the author was supposed to have had to stay up late to think of all the labored and artificial expressions he uses. Trixie, directed and co-written (with John Binder) by Alan Rudolph doesn’t just smell of the lamp. It smells of coffee and no-doze, to say nothing of more dubious pharmaceuticals. (Can it be entirely by accident that one of the principal characters is called “Dex”?) The movie, that is, is obviously the product of several all-nighters which was never submitted to re- examination in the light of day, let alone to any moderately competent editor. It is hard to exaggerate how awful the writing is in this movie, and it is all the more awful for the fact that the authors obviously suppose it to be very witty.

Most of the authors’ verbal invention is lavished on the eponymous Trixie (Emily Watson) who has, in fact, only one trick: the malapropism (or rather, verbal confusions that are supposed to be malapropisms). And she performs it over and over again. And over and over. And over and over. One malapropism flying by against a blue and empty void can be amusing. Two or three are usually less so. Even Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan’s The Rivals, who gave the thing its name, gets to be rather tiresome after a while. But when the sky is blackened with them, as it is here, we are first bored and then frightened. We can only beg for this senseless linguistic slaughter to stop. Alas, it does not stop. Not for nearly two hours, by the end of which period, even the charming Miss Watson has contrived to become insipid, even loathsome, in our eyes.

“It’s time,” she says, “to fish or get off the pot.” Is her sister about to have a baby? Then she doesn’t know “if I’m going to be an uncle or an aunt yet.” An aspiring detective, she is going to hunt down malefactors and “get ’em by hook or by ladder.” Yes, sir, “you got to take the bull by the tail and look ’em in the eye.” She notices someone who “smokes like a fish” and tells someone else that she is “not drinking yourself into Bolivia.” She tells Dex (Dermott Mulroney), who is trying to pick her up, that he is vain by suggesting that she might be willing to see him “if you’re not too busy posing for statues of Adidas.” When they get in a jam she says they are “between a rock and the deep blue sea.” And on and on it goes.

The plot, which is almost entirely incomprehensible, has something to do with Dex’s boss, a property developer called Red (Will Patton), who is building some “luxury pandemoniums” and in the process further corrupting an already corrupt Senator called Avery (Nick Nolte). “Senator, sir, it’s time to swallow the bullet,” says our Trixie. In addition, both Red and the Senator are interested in a drunken woman called Dawn (Lesley Ann Warren), who is trying to blackmail the senator and whose life may be in danger. I won’t even mention the assistance Trixie gets from a bad nightclub comic called Kirk (Nathan Lane) who has done time for murder and who turns his talent for mimickry to surprising use.

None of this really matters, however. The only point of the thing is for us to admire the resolutely unadmirable Trixie who, though obviously dumber than the gum she constantly chews, is still smarter than everyone around her. Or perhaps her kind of stupidity is just catching. Thus the Senator tells her that “We [senators] are sworn by oath never to go beyond the bounds of reasonable dishonesty,” which even she recognizes as nonsense. Likewise, Red says: “If you can’t keep quiet, shut up. Comprendez?” Incidentally, Red has the best line of the movie, when he instructs Dex to show some hospitality to the Senator and other guests: “Get out some cashew nuts,” he says. “The good ones.” But like everything else in the movie, emphatically including the politicians’ hangout full of party girls in tight dresses, even this line smells of the lamp.

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