The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Saturday, March 23, 1996               TAG: 9603220078
TYPE: Movie Review 
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   95 lines


IT'S DIFFICULT to keep a good plot down, and the remake of the classic ``Diabolique'' has one of the best.

The fact that it does little with it, other than just trot it out, is both the good and the bad about this new version.

Two women set out to murder the man who has done both of them wrong. They succeed. Then the body disappears.

The plot of Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1950ish film is intricate, and complete with a surprise ending.

Nicole, the tough blond mistress, is apparently sick of the abuse she gets from Guy, her boss at an isolated boys school somewhere near Pittsburgh. So, for that matter, is Mia, the man's put-upon and cheated-upon wife. Nicole is the mastermind of the plot that poor Mia reluctantly joins.

They poison the man and then drown him in the bathtub. Then, they throw the body in the school's filthy swimming pool.

When the body doesn't come to the surface in several days, they drain the pool. No body. Is the man still living, in spite of the fact that we saw him drown? Is someone on to the murderers? Will they be blackmailed? Will they be caught?

As directed by Jeremiah Chechik, the new version takes every opportunity to be crude. In an apparent effort to ``update'' the story, it adds vulgarities that are neither necessary nor applicable.

A possible sexual relationship between the two women is added, as well as an expounded version of the end.

Sharon Stone has the wonderful bad-woman role that was originally played by the inimitable Simone Signoret, one of the great actresses of film history. Signoret, complete with dangling cigarette, brought a threatening, sly edge to the character of the mistress who wants revenge. Stone, on the other hand, goes for broader things. From her first scene, she plays the woman as an outright slut.

You have to wonder why and how this woman would be stuck as a teacher in a boys school. (What's she teaching, anyway?). This woman wears cocktail dresses to class. Stone goes about her part as if she's a panther searching for small game.

She isn't exactly subtle, but, as usual, Stone is great fun to watch. She's one of the last actresses who seems to know that she's a movie star, and acts accordingly.

Isabelle Adjani, the stunning French actress, would not seem the obvious choice to play the meek, ultra-religious wife who is the reluctant member of the murder team. Adjani is a sex symbol unto herself. Here, she's asked to play a woman with a bad heart and little spunk. Adjani may be the meek one, but she has a nude scene in her very first appearance. From there, she spends most of the film pouting and being horrified. It's about all she's assigned.

Chazz Palminteri gets no more than one note out of his role as the evil, abusive man.

The sex, as well as the essence, of the police inspector has been changed. Snooping about now is Kathy Bates, in the role originally played as a wizened old French professional. Bates is not nearly as colorful as another female investigator in a current movie: Frances McDormand in ``Fargo.''

Shirley Knight, an Oscar nominee three decades ago for ``Sweet Bird of Youth,'' is a middle-class acquaintance who exists only to possibly overhear the sounds of murder. Spalding Gray is a wimpy teacher.

One can hardly accept this plot as being set in Pittsburgh rather than in a French boys school. Is there any boys school in Pittsburgh that is quite this isolated? Are there any male students who would knuckle under to Stone's orders quite as quickly as these?

It's hard to forget Signoret in the original. There also was Tuesday Weld in the interesting 1974 TV remake, called ``Reflections of Murder.''

Perhaps it's asking a bit much to ask us to keep the secret for 40 years. If you've never been exposed to this plot, then there is still great fun with this film, even with all this murky, dark photography.

Although it has been copied so often since, a good plot is still a good plot. ILLUSTRATION: JAMES BRIDGES

Morgan Creek Productions

French actress Isabelle Adjani stars as a wife who plots to kill her

unfaithful husband in ``Diabolique.''



Cast: Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani, Chazz Palminteri, Kathy

Bates, Spalding Gray, Shirley Knight, Alan Garfield

Director: Jeremiah Chechik

Screenplay: Don Roos, based on the novel by Pierre Boileau and

the film ``Les Diaboliques'' by Henri-Georges Clouzot

Music: Randy Edelman

MPAA rating: R (gore, murder)

Mal's rating: ***

Locations: Cinemark, Greenbrier in Chesapeake; Circle 4, Main

Gate in Norfolk; Columbus, Kemps River, Lynnhaven Mall, Surf-N-Sand

in Virginia Beach by CNB