"Actually, the title of the film refers
to the casting process."
Boyle and Hutton in The Temp.
Awful femme fatale movies had something of a mini-renaissance in the early 90's, including such noxious titles as Basic Instinct, The Crush, The Babysitter, Poison Ivy... oh, the list goes on and on. They all feature, in one form or another, a conniving woman who is initially attractive on many fronts but eventually reveals her true colors and is nearly responsible for the downfall of all who put their trust in her. We wish we could say that The Temp is the worst example of this sub-genre, but the truth is, most of them are easily as painful as this movie. However, don't let that deceive you: The Temp is very, very bad indeed.
Peter Derns (Timothy Hutton) works as a marketing executive for the Mrs. Appleby cookie company. The environment is highly competitive, especially since Appleby was recently acquired by another company, constantly referred to as "the boys in New York." When Peter's regular assistant takes leave to be with his wife during childbirth, Kris Bolin (Twin Peaks alum Lara Flynn Boyle) arrives to save the day. Not only does she finish the all-important report due by noon, but she also reorganizes Peter's entire life in the space of a week.
Kris decides she likes working for Peter so much that when the regular assistant returns to work, she arranges an "accident" involving a paper shredder. Personally, we're the types to check the power eight times before sticking our hands into something with that much destructive potential, but there it is. A whirring sound, a spray of blood, an agonized cry, and Kris is sitting pretty in Peter's office again. She even sends the poor cad a sympathy card.
Unfortunately for Peter, Kris doesn't stop there. She has found that she likes being upwardly mobile, and so the company undergoes a colossal series of accidents and firings as Kris works her way to the top, trying to seduce Peter along the way. Peter, who is just exiting therapy for acute paranoia, doesn't know whether he imagines that Kris is engineering these events, or if she's really responsible. What he does know is that she's not making it any easier for him to reach a reconciliation with his estranged wife.
Forget it, guys...
Not even scenes like this
can save The Temp.
From here, The Temp spirals downward into absurdity. Not only are we led to believe that Kris can get away with murder (repeatedly), but she can also engineer a batch of cookies that cause test market volunteers to cough up blood, hack the company e-mail system, and perform a number of other highly unlikely activities. We began to think that Kris might actually be innocent, because her tally of crimes became too massive to believe.
The script is not completely to blame for The Temp's hemorrhage-inducing awfulness; the cast does its part to lower the film's quality even further. Boyle should have gotten some sort of shame award for her overacting as Bolin. Faye Dunaway (as Derns' boss, Charlene) did get a shame award for hers -- the Golden Raspberry for Worst Supporting Actress that year. Hutton chose to go the other route, becoming the most relentlessly boring screen personality we've seen since Jeff Muldovan in Trancers 4. Rounding out this roll call of shame is Dwight Schultz, who should really stick to those oddball characters on TV. His dull executive role in this movie made us pine for the wacky adventures of "Howling Mad" Murdoch on The A-Team.
When we see films like this, we often wonder what could have inspired a movie studio to make a film this wretched. Was the script re-written on the set? Were all the people involved suffering some mass hallucination that they were making a good movie? Perhaps the flick itself offers a clue: maybe somewhere, in an office in Hollywood, a vengeful temp is secretly greenlighting projects just like this one. Now that's scary.