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NOIR ET BLANK

John Bailey, who makes his directorial debut with a sex thriller called China Moon, has been the cinematographer on such beautifully photographed movies as Ordinary People, Accidental Tourist and In the Line of Fire.

It's a good thing, too. The strength of this conventional Nineties film noir is its dark, disturbing look, much of it shot in the rain. And while that is actually the work of Bailey's longtime mentor, Willy Kurant, the director clearly would have settled for nothing less than the dark-night-of-the-soul camera work we see here.

What he has settled for is a hopelessly familiar screenplay by one Roy Carlson, who got his start by--no kidding--writing counterintelligence manuals for the defense industry. Set in steamy, small-town Florida, the story is part Body Heat, part Basic Instinct, and neither its transparent femme fatale (Madeleine Stowe) nor its too-smart-for-his-own-good police detective (Ed Harris) shows much originality.

She's bored by her abusive, rich-banker husband (Charles Dance). He's lonely. They go rowing in the moonlight--and on from there.

That the husband is about to get killed is a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately, Carlson's deceptions, twists and double-crosses are not interesting enough to keep us glued to the screen, despite the best efforts of the actors. The wild card is Harris's ambitious young police partner, played by talented young Benicio Del Toro, but connoisseurs of the genre may find themselves one step ahead of him, too.

Stowe, an emergent star with real magnetism, probably won't care if she never sees another policeman on screen. In Unlawful Entry, cop Ray Liotta stalked her; in Blink, cop Aidan Quinn teamed up with her; and here cop Ed Harris helps her relieve her hubby of twelve million bucks.

Enough already. And enough already of a once-proud movie genre that's hitting rock bottom in the Nineties--just like Stowe's murdered husband in this nicely shot, empty-headed thriller.

 
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