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‘Frankie & Alice’: The 3 implausible faces of Halle Berry

A psychotherapist (Stellan Skarsgard) tries help Frankie (Halle Berry) with her multiple personality disorder “Frankie   Alice.”  |

A psychotherapist (Stellan Skarsgard) tries to help Frankie (Halle Berry) with her multiple personality disorder in “Frankie & Alice.” | CODEBLACK FILMS

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Frankie Murdoch Halle Berry

Dr. Oswald Stellan Skarsgard

Edna Phylicia Rashad

Maxine Chandra Wilson

Codeblack Films presents a film directed by Geoffrey Sax and written by Cheryl Edwards, Marko King, Mary King, Jonathan Watters, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. Running time: 101 minutes. Rated R (for some sexual content, language and drug use). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: May 5, 2014 7:49AM

Well, this one took a while to get a wide release.

How long? When filming on “Frankie & Alice” commenced, Barack Obama had just been elected president.

For the first time.

Shot in Vancouver in late 2008 and early 2009, the Halle Berry vehicle “Frankie & Alice” had a one-week run in Los Angeles in 2010 to qualify for awards consideration. (In fact Berry was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2011.) But then it disappeared into the murky movie limbo, only now resurfacing.

Sometimes things are better off lost in the mist.

“Frankie & Alice” actually has many of the key ingredients for a prestige, awards-friendly film, to the point where it almost sounds like someone used a recipe: an Academy Award-winning actress plays a stripper with multiple personality disorder in a story inspired by true events.

Too bad it’s such a cringe-inducing mess.

The Halle Berry of 2008-09 (and of today) remains one of the most camera-friendly actresses of her generation, and we know she can do great work on film, as evidenced by “Monster’s Ball.”

But these dissociative identity disorder movies are tricky business. When it goes well, we get Joanne Woodward in “Three Faces of Eve” or Sally Field in the TV movie “Sybil.” When it flies off the rails, we get well-intentioned messes such as “Raising Cain” (the poster for the Brian DePalma film said, “DeMented, DeRanged, DeCeptive, DePalma”) or “Color of Night.”

When Berry pulls out the stops in “Frankie & Alice” and morphs into a little girl or a white racist, it’s just … difficult to watch.

Her character is Frankie Murdoch, a go-go dancer who sometimes flips out when she sees or hears something that triggers flashbacks to a traumatic experience from her youth. Instead of processing the memory, Frankie will freak out or even pass out on the street. On one such occasion, the cops figure she’s just another strung-out junkie stripper — but a psychotherapist nicknamed Oz (Stellan Skarsgard) takes a special interest in Frankie and is convinced she really does have multiple personality disorder and she’s not engaging in some kind of con game.

Yes, Stellan Skarsgard is playing Dr. Oz in this movie. But not the Dr. Oz. And yes, this is one of two movies this week featuring Stellan Skarsgard as a man who takes a very particular interest in listening to and interpreting the life story of a beautiful and deeply troubled woman. (The other is “Nymphomaniac Volume II.”)

Six writers are credited with the script for “Frankie & Alice,” which might explain why it seems all over the place. The production values are solid and we do get an authentic sense of time and setting, whether it’s 1970s Los Angeles or flashbacks to the 1950s South, but the film resorts to hokey devices such as a pop song (complete with echo effect) or an empty crib to trigger Frankie’s breakdowns or personality shifts.

When Berry is playing Frankie, who is smart and fierce and sometimes funny, even as she’s dealing with the noise in her head, it’s a fine performance. When she becomes a white Southern belle named Alice who spews racist comments and belittles Frankie as a no-good whore, it’s less than believable. And when she turns into “Genius,” a frightened little girl — it’s not good. Every inch of that facet of the performance feels calculated and “actorly.”

If only Dr. Oz can uncover what happened to Frankie as a girl, he’ll be able to help Frankie. That’s how “Frankie & Alice” becomes a mystery of sorts, with director Geoffrey Sax doling out the answers in heavy-handed flashback scenes including a certain kind of tragedy that keeps happening in movies, and a subsequent trauma that is handled with such overkill it’s like something out of a horror movie.

This is a project Ms. Berry believed in for a very long time before it was greenlit — and then when the movie was finally made, it lingered largely out of sight for more than half a decade. It would be lovely to report that the struggles to get it made and released have finally paid off with a film deserving of a healthy-sized audience in theaters and a long life on home video.

It would. But it’s not.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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