Film review: Rhinoceros Eyes

Published: Thursday, May 20 2004 12:36 p.m. MDT

In "Rhinoceros Eyes," Michael Pitt plays Chep, a Hollywood "prop shop" employee. Chep is a loner until he meets Fran (Paige Turco).

Ian Watson, Madstone Films

Enlarge photo»

"Rhinoceros Eyes" is a terrible title for a movie — but in this case it's fitting. Not only does it refer to a plot device that drives the story, but it's also indicative of how peculiar the film is.

Sadly, in this case, peculiar isn't necessarily a good thing.

In many ways this thriller-drama-fantasy hybrid is way too quirky for its own good. For every amusing or fascinating aspect — such as the inclusion of stop-motion animated sequences — there's a go-nowhere subplot or a joke that falls flat.

And yet, there's an odd sensibility that recalls the earlier works of both David Lynch and David Cronenberg (filmmaker Aaron Woodley is a nephew of the latter).

Consequently, you could almost see this one becoming some sort of cult film. After all, the same thing happened to the similar style-over-substance 2001 film-festival hit "Donnie Darko" (although "Darko" had more going for it).

"Rhinoceros Eyes" features one of the more aloof main characters in recent memory, Chep (Michael Pitt), an employee in a Hollywood "prop shop" who is slowly losing his mind — he imagines that some of the props have been assembling themselves into humanlike form and talk to him.

Chep's feelings of isolation don't help. He refuses to fraternize with his co-workers or leave the shop, except when he goes to the movies. But that changes when he meets Fran (Paige Turco), a movie production designer who comes into the shop one day looking for rhinoceros eyes. Real ones. Which the shop does have, but unfortunately they've already been loaned out to another film.

So, disguised in a Tor Johnson Halloween mask, Chep steals them back. And over the course of the next few nights, he sets out to get Fran all the props she needs.

Eventually, the bizarre nature of these crimes attracts the attention of a detective (Gale Howard), who suspects that the shy Chep may know more than he's letting on.

As weird and off-putting as portions of the film are, the most serious problem is Pitt's performance. For some reason, he appears to be channeling Crispin Glover. (To paraphrase the "Highlander" movies: "There can be only one!")

"Rhinoceros Eyes" is rated R for violence (a beating, a mutilation and some disturbing imagery), occasional use of strong sexual profanity, simulated sex, brief male and female nudity, some crude sexual talk and use of vulgar slang terms, and brief gore. Running time: 92 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com