Sleeping with the Enemy made over $100 million in 1991, and you can bet every penny came from the presence of Julia Roberts. This was when she was truly America's sweetheart thanks to that smile, that hair and a winning performance in Pretty Woman. At that time, you could have put her in a movie with a Sweathog and Scott Baio and it would have topped $85 million.
When I was 13 and first saw Sleeping with the Enemy I was under that spell, like every other heterosexual male in America. Having recently watched it again, I realize how duped I was.
The movie, based on Nancy Price's novel, gives us Roberts as Laura, a young wife trapped in an abusive relationship with Martin (Patrick Bergin), a possessive, fastidious psychopath. When the couple decides to go on a boat trip, Laura sees her chance to start life anew when a sudden storm develops. She fakes her own death, swims to shore, and hightails it to Iowa.
Laura's pseudo-incarnation starts off promisingly. She finds a house, gets a job, and meets Ben, the dreamy local drama professor (played by Kenny Loggins-lookalike Kevin Anderson). Of course, Martin gets wise to Laura's scheme and tracks her down to her Midwest haven.
Roberts doesn't act as much as resemble a real-life Barbie, placed in an array of attractive motifs. There's glamour Julia in the backless gown, homebody Julia in tight jeans, sexy Julia in a man's shirt. The pattern reaches its ridiculous, unintentionally funny apex when Roberts -- with Anderson present -- tries on a series of funny hats and a sexy costume or two while "Brown Eyed Girl" blares in the background.
That scene permanently cripples the movie's effectiveness as a thriller. When your movie's main character is an abused woman escaping from her stormy past, it really strains the boundaries of credibility when she acts like a 16-year-old at a slumber party.
The two male, main characters don't fare very well either. Anderson's good-guy character is supposed to be earnest and sympathetic, but he comes off as disingenuous. The lecherous look he gives Roberts' character as she undresses in the aforementioned wardrobe scene confirms all suspicions. Bergin plays the brute way over the top, but also without any dark humor or psychotic fun, which the movie needs.
Fans of early Julia, when she was all dewy and starlet-new, will be satisfied. Everyone else won't be. The movie isn't scary or romantic (Ben and Laura's relationship is rushed and unsatisfying). Sleeping with the Enemy serves as a testament to Roberts' early star power and little else.