The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Saturday, August 20, 1994              TAG: 9408190091
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   67 lines


TAKE A HUSBAND who isn't getting along with his wife.

Take a wife who wouldn't mind killing her husband.

Stir 'em up. There you have the ingredients of ``Red Rock West,'' a little plot-wise twister that has become something of a Cinderella movie simply by getting to the Naro, or any other theater.

Nicolas Cage, with the usual eight o'clock shadow and wild-eyed look, wanders into Colorado looking for a job on an oil rig. With a wallet as flat as a CD recording, he celebrates his unemployment by dropping into a beer joint in Red Rock. The owner, a seedy type played wonderfully by J.T. Walsh, pushes $5,000 into the drifter's palm and urges him to get along with the business of knocking off his wife (Lara Flynn Boyle).

What we have here is a case of mistaken identity. The real hit man is none other than Dennis Hopper, waiting off-screen to go through his usual repertoire of sneering and cool menace.

``Red Rock West'' strives for the small-town menace of ``Blue Velvet'' and the conniving of ``Blood Simple.'' It doesn't quite make it on either count, even after a smashingly good first hour.

Eventually it settles down to be nothing more than a routine man hunt (even though this time it's a man-woman hunt).

Among the several rather limp surprises is Cage's effort to continue his new image as a regular guy. In the spirit of Hitchcock heroes, he tries mightily to convince us that he's just an ordinary guy who wandered into all this mess. In view of Cage's former screen personas, though, we're always suspicious. Our suspicions are well-grounded.

He takes the $5,000, but instead of killing her, he trots out to warn Boyle. She offers him another $10,000 to kill her husband. When he finally decides to take the money and run, he's again thwarted by his goodness.

Then Hopper, one of the few authentic living legends of movie lore, shows up - hungry for both the money and a few dead bodies.

``Red Rock West'' is unique in that it was released both in video and on HBO before it became a theatrical success. As a result of a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, a small theater owner in San Francisco booked it. Subsequent bookings in other cities also proved that the cult status of Hopper and the building cult status of Cage can sell when backed by a serviceable plot.

Boyle is a major liability in the femme fatale category. Her idea of sexiness is to merely stare at the camera in a deadpan manner. When we think of the bad-girl allure of Barbara Stanwyck in ``Double Indemnity,'' we get an idea of what this woman should suggest.

``Red Rock West'' has been over-praised, but it is nonetheless a little gem. Its success is due to the fact that there are so few authentic movie plots around these days. At the outset, this one is quite entertaining. It's just the solution that gets pretty ordinary. MEMO: MOVIE REVIEW

``Red Rock West''

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle, J.T. Walsh

Director: John Dahl

Screenplay: John and Rick Dahl

Music: William Ovis

MPAA rating: (Not rated by MPAA, but would probably get an R for

language and sexuality).

Mal's rating: two and a half stars

Locations: Naro Expanded Cinema in Norfolk by CNB