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Another Side of Bacon... 

He hasn't been in every movie ever made — it just feels like it.

To Stir, with love: Kevin Bacon, mastering the blue-collar role.
  • To Stir, with love: Kevin Bacon, mastering the blue-collar role.

Kevin Bacon is talking about his penis. It's not his fault — not exactly, anyway. Bacon didn't bring it up, so to speak. He never does, at least not in public. He's just trying to promote his latest film, Stir of Echoes. But here he is nonetheless, explaining how it feels to know that the guy he's talking to — some stranger — has seen his hang-down, explaining how it feels to know, well, a good handful of people reading this article have seen him in the shower during just one of the many lurid gambits played by last year's Wild Things. That movie was as juicy and as fun a B-film thriller as you could ever hope to see, a guilty pleasure for audiences — as well as first-time producer Bacon, who to this day wonders why it wasn't a hit.

"I wish everybody had seen it," he says with a compact chuckle. He sounds good-natured about it, though perhaps a tinge wistful. "I thought it was this really cool film, an unusual film. But I'm not sure everybody really got it."

They did, however, get full-frontal Bacon.

"I never really expected it to have the impact that it did," he says, explaining that, during the first day of a press tour, "something like 27 of 30 reporters asked me about giving The Full Monty. You forget that men never do that in American movies. It just never, never happens. There's this thing about showing your ass that certain kinds of male stars do as a sign of, you know, status or something. I'm not that calculating. As an actor, I think you just try to do what whatever works best for the film, try to do something original, maybe not so expected."

It's a fitting take on his entire 21-year movie career. Just when you think you have Bacon pegged, he startles you by showing you something you haven't seen before. His performances are as varied as they are familiar: Now you see him, now you don't.

"My career has had valleys to go with the peaks," Bacon points out, as the topic turns to his appearance in the original Friday the 13th. "Particularly after Footloose had made me the "It Boy.'" By valleys, no doubt he means his roles in Quicksilver, a movie about a bike courier, and the now-cult horror-comedy Tremors, which starred the dad from Family Ties and that estimable actress Reba McEntire.

"You never get the scripts you deserve," Bacon admits. "It's always based on how much money your last picture made. Anybody that tells you anything different is full of shit."

But Bacon doesn't blindly play the idealist, even on a promotional phone call. He knows now is either the most right time for a film such as Stir of Echoes or it's the most wrong time possible. Especially in the wake of The Sixth Sense, which deals with so many of the same themes.

"I wish I didn't have to think so much about how a film is going to fit into the market, but unfortunately I do," Bacon says with the resigned tone of a man who's seen films more than half-full come up empty too many times. "It's one of my least favorite aspects of this business, but it's so important. You have to be concerned. It may be a good time for this sort of movie, but maybe we're too late. We're different [from] Sixth Sense, but there are some common elements. Audiences may think they've already seen it."

Or they may not recognize the film at all. Bacon's name above the title is not the same as Sixth Sense's star Bruce Willis's — even though Willis has a so-called Bacon factor of two, according to the infamous Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Game (http://www.cs.virginia.edu/oracle/), which proves how every actor in Hollywood can be linked to Kevin Bacon through no more than a half-dozen films. (Bruce Willis was in The Player with Robert Wagner, and Robert Wagner was in Wild Things.) And Kevin Bacon's name above the marquee isn't worth even a smidgen of Blair Witch's hype — even though Blair Witch also has a Bacon factor of two. (Blair Witch's Joshua Leonard is currently filming Navy Diver with Robert De Niro, who was in Sleepers.)

After all, Bacon's name has been above the title almost every time out the gate since Footloose, but has it ever packed a punch? At 41 years of age, he's hardly an icon. Rather, he's a character actor, and a surprisingly youthful-looking one at that. But he doesn't seem to mind his status as the man famous for being, well, famous.

"Some of that stuff used to bother me," he says, referring to the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. "I thought people were making fun. But I'm lucky to have acting and to have acted as long and as often as I have. I look for films where I can do solid characters. That's the challenge for me."

Next time out, Bacon is partnered with a director who's only made half as many films as he has: Paul Verhoeven, the man responsible for the likes of Robocop, Total Recall, and Sharon Stone's peekaboo in Basic Instinct.

Speaking of Verhoeven, Bacon is talking about his penis . . . again. And again, it's not exactly his fault. He's just trying to discuss the film he's currently shooting, Verhoeven's new sci-fi flick The Hollow Man, in which Bacon stars as an invisible man.

"Well, I'm invisible, so I have to be naked," he says. In the distance, his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, can be heard asking her husband if he's going to get off the phone anytime soon, so they can go to lunch. "We're doing all these cutaways, trying not to show anything. Here I am, working with Paul — I don't know if you've seen any of his early Dutch stuff, but there's one where he shows three guys measuring their cocks — and he's going out of his way not to get any nudity. But we've got a ways to go. Before we're done, who knows, you still might see my three-piece."

The Seventh Sense?
A ghostly reprise haunts Stir of Echoes.
By M.V. Moorhead

Whether it's bad or good commercial luck that the thriller Stir of Echoes follows so closely on the heels of The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan's wildly successful ghost-story sleeper, it's bad critical luck. The film has some startling parallels with The Sixth Sense: Both concern psychic communication with the departed, a small boy with otherworldly perceptions, working-class urban settings, and disturbing murder mysteries. It's possible that audiences could respond to Stir of Echoes and even have an appetite for it after The Sixth Sense. But critics may feel the need to yawn.

It will be a shame if that happens, because Stir of Echoes is a rather good movie. Adapted from a 1958 novel by the seminal postwar fantasist Richard Matheson, it's a quicker, jazzier, more confident piece of moviemaking than The Sixth Sense, but this may merely make it seem more crass — it lacks the earlier film's earnest sweetness, the empathic charge of Haley Joel Osment's performance in the role of the little boy. And though the secrets and revelations at the core of the plot are well-constructed and reasonably moving, they can't compare to the hard uppercut-to-the-jaw twist that The Sixth Sense ends with, which probably accounts for much of its repeat business.

The setting in Stir of Echoes is Chicago's Southside, a gritty but not unpleasant residential neighborhood where Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) lives with his wife (Katherine Erbe) and son (Zachary David Cope). At a party one evening, after expressing skepticism toward the idea of hypnosis, Tom allows his sister-in-law (Illeana Douglas) — a hypnotherapist — to put him in a trance.

He proves all too susceptible. He's plagued at once by horrifying visions, most of them involving the specter of a teenage girl (Jenny Morrison) who has recently gone missing from the area. Even more alarmingly, his son seems to have the same sixth sense for ghosts and be quite comfortable with it.

Director-screenwriter David Koepp (the man behind the scripts for Jurassic Park, The Paper, Mission: Impossible, and a few other lucrative movies) has devised a slick three-act structure for the film (making this effort far more impressive than the 1996 movie that marked his directorial debut, The Trigger Effect). The scares early on are potent and get Stir of Echoes off to a chilly horror-movie start. In its middle third, the film downshifts with a series of admirably unsettling sequences that are scary in a subtler way. For instance, Bacon will have a vivid dream that begins calmly but ends in catastrophe, then he'll wake up to find his reality unfolding precisely like the bucolic beginning of his nightmare. Even Hitchcock might have liked this gimmick, if he'd had a taste for the supernatural. In the final third, the movie falls into detective-story mode, an approach that would be disappointingly conventional if it weren't so well-executed. One subplot, about a mysterious underground network of psychics, doesn't amount to much; otherwise, each piece of the puzzle falls neatly into place.

Stir of Echoes is well-shot by Fred Murphy and deftly edited by Jill Savvitt, and the cast performs with real conviction. Bacon, lean and wary as a coyote, brings a charge of frantic energy to Tom; it's his best work since Murder in the First. The talented but somehow amorphous actress Kathryn Erbe brings a believable and touching sense of desperation to the part of Tom's wife. Her presence would probably be felt more strongly if it weren't for Illeana Douglas, who, as usual, gives the movie such a witty, sexy zap every time she's on-screen that she ends up usurping leading-lady status. The neighbors include Kevin Dunn, Conor O'Farrell, Liza Weil, and Lusia Strus. All of these people, even the glamorous Bacon, seem to belong to the blue-collar world that Koepp sketches convincingly and without condescension.

As Jan DeBont's wretched version of The Haunting demonstrated earlier this summer, Victorian mansions no longer scare us — the original, early '60s versions of Psycho and The Haunting were probably the last times such settings were used without irony. In Halloween and Poltergeist, supernatural terror moved to tract houses in the 'burbs, and now, in both The Sixth Sense and Stir of Echoes, it has taken up residence with the working stiffs — or, in the case of the Blair Witch, gone to the woods. Evidently, when the Dow is booming, America's ghosts get downsized.

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