It’s still Halloween in Hollywood, where heavy-breathing soundtracks, vulnerable young women, and cameras that take the viewpoint of a stalking killer are prized for their audience-gripping power. Portraying women solely as victims leaves a sour aftertaste these days, though, so faux-feminist slasher flicks like Copycat feature two women—one the victim, the other the avenger. The sleazy Eye for an Eye takes this even further: The victim is a teenage girl who’s raped and murdered, and the avenger is her mother.

Karen and Mac McCann (Sally Field and Ed Harris) and their two daughters live in the sort of opulent L.A. suburb that Hollywood movies frequently mistake for middle-class. (Eye’s TV ad breathlessly warns that “they thought they’d be safe when they moved to the suburbs,” but the film offers no hint that they’ve ever lived anywhere but the suburbs.) After a prologue that shows Karen to be a competent, compassionate mom who (literally) wouldn’t hurt a bug—and exploits a little O.J. trial footage—Eye cuts right to its defining event: Julie, the couple’s older daughter, is assaulted and slain in the family’s upscale home. To maximize this scene’s slasher-porn appeal without risking an NC-17 rating, most of it is presented in audio only; Karen is talking to Julie on her cell phone, and so can hear the attack but can do nothing to stop it. Caught in traffic, she jumps from her car and frantically seeks help, but her fellow motorists ignore her.

This setup is so diabolical that it almost seems noteworthy, but afterwards things become routine. Detective Dinello (Joe Mantegna) soon calls to say the police have arrested a suspect, one Robert Doob (Kiefer Sutherland, taking maximum advantage of the creepiness he usually tries to hide). This is not an ordinary suspect, either: He’s guilty and the film makes no effort to hide it. The American legal system is not so well-informed as the Eye audience, however. Charges against the sneering Doob are dropped when the prosecutors bungle the evidential procedure.

Outraged and obsessed, Karen begins to stalk the stalker. Soon, she’s identified Doob’s next target, but neither the police nor the putative victim’s husband want to hear about it. After her hunch comes true and Doob walks free again, Karen discovers that her local survivors-of-violence support group is a cover for a modern-day Star Chamber. Two bitter members of the group offer to prepare her to shoot Doob, cautioning her that she’ll have to pull the trigger herself. (If only The Crossing Guard’s Jack Nicholson character had gone to that film’s support group, maybe he would have met someone who’d have provided him with a more reliable gun.)

Though Mac expresses some doubts about his wife’s new role as a vigilante, the movie doesn’t credit them. Indeed, the issue seems to be less moral than logistical: not should Karen shoot Doob, but how will she pull it off? Though the supporting cast features such up-to-date characters as a black lesbian FBI agent, there’s none of the nuance of Dead Man Walking. In Eye, there are simply amoral predators, impotent cops, and the occasional mom who’s gutsy enough to smuggle her daughter out of Tehran—no, wait, wrong Sally Field gutsy-mom movie.

Derived from Erika Holzer’s novel by scripters Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, Eye was directed by John Schlesinger, a gone-Hollywood Brit whose résumé reveals a distressing slide from Billy Liar; Sunday, Bloody Sunday; and Midnight Cowboy to Honky Tonk Freeway, Pacific Heights, and The Innocent. Despite his waning taste in material, Schlesinger remains a skilled director. With a script like this one, though, that hardly matters. In Eye, everything—revenge, justice, thrills—comes cheap.CP