Dark Streets Movie Review (1 Star)

Movie Review by Michael Phillips


"Dark Streets" lost me early, real early, like still-adjusting-my-eyes-in-a-dark-theater early: "Welcome to the blues," growls the entertainer with the mohawk and the full-length ringmaster gown.

A match is lighted and a cigarette smoked, the camera tight on the glowing tip. (Funny? Pretentious? You decide.)

The man's voice, of course, is pure experience, all gravel and gunshot. There is neon involved, and -- as if I need to add -- it's dark.

All of which should be a honking signal that this odd little picture -- with its rain-soaked alleys, twinkly eyed budding showgirls and character actors dressed like 14th century ninja turtles -- plays more like a stoned marketing department's idea of the blues than the real deal. Not that "Dark Streets" intends to be a slavish tribute.

Elias Koteas, of the grim thousand-yard stare, arrives as the police lieutenant, dressed in armor and chest plates, for no apparent reason.

The film, which centers on a club named the Tower, features far more jazz than my-dog-done-got-shot blues. And the sets (dark and dank and dripping with moisture) look as if they were appropriated from one of the "Alien" sequels.

The idea, and I'm assuming this, is that the film is meant to be set out of time, which is pretentious-filmmaker speak for not quite the '30s and not quite the '40s. Think steampunk, that sub-subgenre in which cars fly, but with propellers, not jet engines.

Nothing flew, however.

My attention, perhaps. The story involves a young club owner (played by Gabriel Mann) who owes money to gangsters. He has a star performer ("a real belter") played by Bijou Phillips, who makes a great dame, but Koteas' police lieutenant enters into the club one night (there's little daylight on Planet Noir) and urges a replacement -- a milk-faced chanteuse of the long, slow burn, played by Izabella Miko. There's more story, I suppose: Chaz, our club owner, is mourning the apparent suicide of his father, except you know it wasn't a suicide because Chaz's father was the head of a power company, an additional mysterious wrinkle.

Which brings me to maybe the one clever idea in "Dark Streets": Director Rachel Stevens, paying homage to not only jazz and blues and the '30s and the '40s and "Blade Runner" but film noir, has the power drop out every few scenes, throwing the club and the city (an unnamed Every Noir Town) into pitch blackness.

On second thought, a pretty literal shorthand for noir, no? Perhaps, but then "Dark Streets" is entirely a stylistic exercise, hollow and ugly, studded with a handful of hard-to-recall musical numbers and original songs (Etta James, Dr. John), and so desperate to come off like a fever dream that the very edges of the picture are smudgy and gauzy.

No snow globe enters a scene, for instance, without the sole purpose of sliding out of a palm and smashing. And there is an angel of death, who is pale and silent and tall and who wanders through the plot like a deathly ill Mr. Magoo.

It's the kind of movie so shameless it even adds a way to make you feel lousy on the way out of the theater -- there's a disclaimer that "Dark Streets" was made in honor of the displaced musicians of New Orleans.

Half the film's profits will go to them. Which is generous until you think, what's half of $3,000?



MPAA rating: R (for some sexual content, drug use and brief violent images).

Running time: 1:23.

Starring: Gabriel Mann (Chaz); Bijou Phillips (Crystal); Elias Koteas (the Lieutenant); Izabella Mike (Maddie).

Directed by Rachel Samuels; written by Wallace King and Glenn M. Stewart; music by George Acogny, James Compton, Tim Brown and Tony Demeur; production design by Frank Bollinger; produced by Claus Clausen, Corina Danckwerts and Andrea Balen. A Samuel Goldwyn Films release.







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