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Classic Horror Tale Is Drained Of Life In ‘Mary Reilly’

It’s the classic Cosmo-girl dilemma: Do you pick the nice, safe guy or the wild, exciting one?

However, when you’re Julia Roberts and you’re playing a 19th-century maid who must choose between mystery dates Dr. Jekyll (the kind of pleasant fellow who subscribes to Popular Mechanics) and Mr. Hyde (the kind of bad boy who wears leather jackets and doesn’t want to cuddle afterward), there’s going to be trouble no matter to whom she opens the door. Especially since they’re the same guy. What do you say to your friends? “He’s not much to look at, but he has great personalities”?

“Mary Reilly’s” premise is fascinating, but the idea is better than the execution. This is not the scary movie you might be expecting from the ads; it’s a deliberate (some will say dull), serious look at a woman deciding whether to acknowledge she has a dark side. Ideally, according to the movie, we need to find someone who helps us recognize that we are all made up of dark and light.

The problem is that Jekyll/Hyde (John Malkovich, in two one-note performances) is an either/or guy. He’s either all dark or all light, so neither of him is a suitable loverman for Mary, which means the movie cannot have a satisfying ending. Still, it doesn’t have to be as bad as the ending we get, in which Mary passively watches a completely nonsensical special-effects display.

Another problem: The movie is no fun. Glenn Close pops up briefly as a vicious, snarling madam. She’s obviously having a giggle in this warm-up for her next role, as Cruella De Ville in the live-action “101 Dalmatians.” But Roberts’ glum, proficient performance is more typical of “Mary Reilly” - the people who made this movie have taken one of the great, delirious classics of pulp fiction and sucked all the juice out of it.

xxxx “Mary Reilly” Locations: East Sprague, Lyons and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Stephen Frears; starring Julia Roberts, John Malkovich Running time: 1:58 Rating: R