There is the seed of a good mystery-thriller in "Mortal Thoughts," but somewhere along the way it became muddled and confused and far too gimmicky.

Set in New Jersey, the film begins with Cynthia (Demi Moore) being interrogated by two homicide detectives (Harvey Keitel and Billie Neal) about the murder of James (Bruce Willis), a repugnant, drug-abusing wife-beater who was married to her best friend Joyce (Glenne Headly).The story unfolds from Cynthia's viewpoint in flashbacks, but it is apparent from the outset that something isn't quite right.

Cynthia was an employee at Joyce's "Clip 'n' Dye" hair salon, but they were apparently childhood friends (the film begins with home movies of two kids playing together). She begins her story with James and Joyce's wedding reception, where they were already fighting openly and the abusive James demonstrates that he doesn't mind threatening her in public.

Why Joyce ever married this guy in the first place is never adequately explained - and seems even less understandable when James says they had been together for three years prior to their marriage.

Over the next few years Joyce becomes James' virtual slave and talks frequently about killing him. He also orders her to have an abortion when she becomes pregnant with their second child. Yet, despite her being portrayed by Headly as a strong-willed, aggressive person, Joyce gives in to James' every command and never attempts to leave him.

FILM Eventually, Willis is killed, apparently by Joyce - but, of course, there is more here than meets the eye.

Though "Mortal Thoughts" seems headed in the direction of "Rashomon," the classic film about the many different "truths" offered by witnesses to a crime, it never quite happens. This is clearly Moore's film, and the structure is built entirely around her character's viewpoint, occasionally giving it the feel of a one-person stage show that has been opened up for film.

There's nothing wrong with that as a cinematic conceit, except that when a specific revelation arrives late in the show, one obviously intended to shock, it instead feels like a cheat.

Then there's the problem of a twist ending that shifts the facts in a way that seems to negate much of what has gone on before.

Director Alan Rudolph tries to be stylistic when he would have benefited from toning down some of his inherent eccentricities, and screenwriters William Reilly ("Men of Respect") and first-timer Claude Kerven might have done better with a more linear approach. Characters come and go, and sometimes it's not clear who they are. Then, about halfway through, it becomes apparent Rudolph is trying for black comedy, and some darkly amusing moments result. But the tone never quite gels. Add to that the confused ending and what you have is an overwrought disappointment.

Willis (who is married to Moore in real life) is quite remarkable in his supporting role as the film's most unredeemable character, a real slime who is prone to so much anti-social behavior that the audience is not sorry to see him die. Other male characters aren't as psychotic, of course, but they are definitely jerks in this movie's viewpoint. As for Moore and Headly, though they offer convincing performances their characters aren't particularly likable either.

There are definitely some good elements here, but not enough to make the film recommendable.

"Mortal Thoughts" is rated R for violence, including a rape scene, considerable profanity (the dreaded Eddie Murphy Word is again a common expletive for every social situation), some vulgarity and drug use.