Don't confuse Whoopi Goldberg's new picture, ``Fatal Beauty,'' with the superhit ``Fatal Attraction.'' While both are violent suspense movies, ``Fatal Attraction'' is a domestic drama, where the nasty business takes place largely in well-furnished homes.
``Fatal Beauty'' puts Whoopi Goldberg back on the mean streets where she spends most of her movies these days. When she does find herself in a fancy house, it's only to track down some drugs and get into a fistfight with the rich woman who lives there.
The title of ``Fatal Beauty'' doesn't refer to Miss Goldberg herself. Rather, it's a new brand of cocaine that kills its users - because a criminal, made brainless by his own product, has packaged it in lethal doses. Goldberg plays Rita Rizzoli, a cop who's determined to eradicate this poison and the crooks who push it. She spends much of the film trading zillions of bullets with bad guys.
She also finds time for a relationship with a bodyguard, played by Sam Elliott, who works for the drug kingpin she's chasing. They fall in love when he decides to go straight. But we don't see much of this romance, since Hollywood is still queasy about dealing with interracial couples. Funny how the movies go all tasteful on us when it comes to a kiss - but not to bodies getting blown apart in scenes of outrageous, wide-screen gore.
Two things make ``Fatal Beauty'' more disturbing to me than the average Hollywood police movie. For one, it's disguised as a responsible film with a respectable message, showing audiences the danger of drug abuse. That would be convincing if the movie focused on this subject, not on scene after scene of mayhem where dope dealing is only an excuse to get the shooting started.
Just as sad is the misuse of Whoopi Goldberg in a role that's far beneath her potential - and not for the first time. She made a strong movie debut in ``The Color Purple,'' and it seemed her career was off like a skyrocket. But since then she has bogged down in movies of decreasing intelligence and escalating violence.
This is important since Goldberg is the only black woman superstar in movies today. Ideally, she'd be finding roles that challenge audiences and pave the way for more black actresses to find Hollywood success. Instead, she's wasting her skill on cheap and frivolous vehicles - just like her black male counterparts, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor.
Shamefully, the Hollywood success machine tends to isolate its black superstars in ghettos of shallow, mass-market entertainment. It's not too late for Goldberg - and Murphy and Pryor - to break out of this trap, insisting on roles that explore the full range of their talents. Until they do, movies like ``Fatal Beauty'' will continue to typecast them at levels that don't reveal their true abilities.