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CHINA MOON (director: John Bailey; screenwriter: Roy Carlson; cinematographer: Willy Kurant; editors: Carol Littleton/Jill Savitt; music: George Fenton; cast: Ed Harris (Kyle Bodine), Madeleine Stowe (Rachel Munro), Charles Dance (Rupert Monro), Patricia Healy (Adele), Benicio Del Toro (Lamar Dickey), Roger Aaron Brown (Police Captain), Tim Powell (Fraker); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Barrie M. Osborne; Orion Pictures; 1991)
“The film’s saving grace is in the emotionally impactful performance by Ed Harris.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

China Moon is cinematographer John Bailey’s directorial debut film. The film was made in 1991 but not released until 1994. It’s an imitative neo-noir film modeled after Double Indemnity, The Postman Rings Twice, and Kasdan’s Body Heat (81). It’s a fairly routine thriller, set in a Florida small-town. But, it picks up steam in its heated payoff. The film’s saving grace is in the emotionally impactful performance by Ed Harris. Also, Benicio Del Toro effectively makes for a creepy homicide detective.

The film’s title is derived from the saying a China moon (full moon) makes one do strange things. The soft-spoken Kyle Bodine (Ed Harris) is a top-notch detective, in his small-town he’s known as the best cop on the force. Kyle’s new partner is a grumpy and bored young detective, Lamar Dickey (Benicio Del Toro), who can’t see things clearly because he’s so bored.

The lonely and unassuming bachelor Kyle lusts after an unhappily married woman, Rachel Munro (Madeleine Stowe), he meets in a bar. The beautiful femme fatale is married to an adulteress, ruthless multi-millionaire, Rupert (Dance), who abuses her. Rupert’s a one-dimensional bad guy. He has 12 million dollars that his wife loves to get her hands on. So she lures Kyle into a romance, and executes her husband with an unregistered gun she bought on the black-market. Kyle is surprised that she would kill her hubby even if he were detestable. But he still forgets about being a law officer and helps her bury the bullet-riddled body in the moonlit lake where they once went skinny dipping. The plot twists follow and the film in the last half-hour starts to get exciting. It’s all about Kyle’s libido and Rachel’s need for money and love.

It’s a B-film, with the overall effect of the film being better than Roy Carlson’s script and Bailey’s flat direction. Though Madeline Stowe’s performance is more stiff than steamy, which is too bad since Ed Harris’s performance was lethal. Yet it’s still an easy film to take on its own merits–it sets a sultry mood.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”