The place is Vienna, and tonight a young, American woman called Milena (Theresa Russell) has been taken into the hospital emergency room as the doctors try to save her life. She has taken an overdose of pills and alcohol and is on the brink of death, but for local police detective Inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel) he feels there is more to this story than meets the eye, and begins to question the man who raised the alarm, psychology professor Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel). There is something not right at all about the course of events as he states them, and he is being awfully cagey...
Even if you didn't know what had happened before the big reveal at the end of the movie, you could have a good idea that there were some dark deeds to be faced up to for both the characters and the audience, yet for the latter that would depend very much on how far you were willing to go along with this incredibly bleak examination of male and female relationships. Particularly the male side, as with director Nicolas Roeg and his screenwriter Yale Udoff they concocted a scenario where love boiled down to how much control one partner couild exert over the other, and in this instance that had the characters going to extreme lengths to ensure events went the way they wanted.
And if they didn't, things would get nasty. The trouble with that was, while you could concede that a balance of power in any close relationship existed, most of the time the terms were friendly until some not necessarily eventual fall out occurred, and for many they could go on quite contentedly on amicable form. But Roeg, who was falling in love with star Russell while filming this, already had a broken marriage behind him, which may well have coloured his pessismism for this tale, though the fact remained that for all his customary skill with technique - his patented cut up style of editing threw the plot together with apparently random but actually keenly applied guidance - he went far too over the top, as if we were supposed to acknowledge that every affair ended in such perverse circumstances.
What Roeg had in his favour was a unabashed performance from Russell, already marking herself out as an actress unafraid to turn up the sexual heat in her characterisation, which was all too fitting for her role in Bad Timing. On the other hand, erstwhile pop star Garfunkel was a curious choice, as while he convinced as a creep, he didn't convince as someone Milena would ever become so passionate about, so we spent the movie uneasy that this emotionally fragile woman should have gotten involved with someone intent on leeching the joie de vivre out of her. Russell just about convinced you that Milena might have made the mistake of her life with Alex, but you still had to accept she was the one who instigated their union instead of the other way around.
Although if Alex was the Roeg stand-in, then that had you worrying for the actress. That said, the director's "examining bugs under a microscope" methods for this rendered him more the cold intellectual with a stern warning for the world, one which few wanted to hear in 1980, not least the production company Rank who in uptight Brit fashion very reluctantly distributed the film, though only after taking their logo off it. Two hours is a long time to be lectured about how men and women are so bad for each other, even when taken to these circumstances to illustrate the point, and while Anthony B. Richmond's cinematography was exemplary, and Russell as mentioned rose to a pretty downbeat occasion to create a vivid portrait of a woman who charges into wrong situations, leap before you look, if you will, Bad Timing was far too ornately constructed for its own good. The spy subplot could easily have been excised without much damage, and the lasting impression was one of overemphasis. Music by Richard Hartley.