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BLOOD AND WINE(director: Bob Rafelson; screenwriters: Nick Villiers/Alison Cross; cinematographer: Newton Thomas Sigel; editor: Steven Cohen; music: Michal Lorenc; cast: Jack Nicholson (Alex Gates), Stephen Dorff (Jason), Jennifer Lopez (Gabrielle), Judy Davis (Suzanne Gates), Michael Caine (Victor Spansky); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Jeremy Thomas; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 1996-USA/UK)
“As lifeless as a flat wine.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A degenerate misanthropic downbeat violent neo-noir heist thriller that ends up being a nasty and unfulfilling character study about greed among a dysfunctional family. It reunites fading director Bob Rafelson (“Head”/”The Postman Always Rings Twice”/”Man Trouble”) with fading star Jack Nicholson for their eighth collaboration (as either director or screenwriter or actor), in what is billed as part of a trilogy about dysfunctional families that includes “Five Easy Pieces” and “The King of Marvin Gardens.” The dark screenplay by Nick Villiers and Alison Cross is as lifeless as a flat wine, but the filming is ruefully stylish and the story has flashes of intelligence despite all its holes. The problem is that it’s hard to give a darn about any of these miserable characters, as one is as wretched as another.

Alex Gates (Jack Nicholson) is a big-talking but struggling wine merchant living unhappily in Miami with nagging wife Suzanne (Judy Davis), who is an abused and haggard-looking recovering alcoholic with a newly acquired codeine addiction. The cad is also saddled with his aimless young adult fisherman stepson Jason (Stephen Dorff), who hates him for being a bully. The broke vintner, who has squandered his wife’s small fortune from her deceased first husband, teams with seedy, tubercular, hot tempered, aging, career safe cracker, out on parole and looking for a big score before he dies, Victor Spansky (Michael Caine), to heist a $1.3m diamond necklace from a wealthy client whose nanny is the manipulative illegal immigrant Cuban, Gabriella (Jennifer Lopez), who is looking for a richer life and is having an affair with Alex. She provides inside info about the safe. The robbery comes off successfully (the only hitch is that the security people get a description of the burglars) with the diamond owners vacationing on their yacht, but in the aftermath things unravel and everything gets bloody complicated. Alex’s wife and stepson inadvertently get their hands on the necklace in a bloody way and flee to Key Largo, with Alex and Victor in hot pursuit. The stepson also has romantic designs on the maid, as the diamond flashes before all of the greedy characters as a means of changing their unhappy lives. It sets a Maltese Falcon mood of intrigue, but there’s some ingredients missing to make this film as tasty as the other.

It’s an insignificant, dour and sleazy film, with no fun but to watch Nicholson and Caine compete for who has the worst hair dye job.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”