(director/writer: Sebastian Gutierrez; screenwriter: Deanna Fuller; cinematographer: James Chressanthis; editor: Howard Smith; cast: Simon Baker-Denny (Junior Armstrong), Carla Gugino (Coco Chavez), Alan Rickman (Det. David Friedman), Emma Thompson (Agent Sadie Hawkins), Til Schweiger (Ruben Rubenbauer), Greg Wise (Ben Dyson), Hal Holbrook (Sen. Rupert Hornbeck), Gil Bellows (Lizard Browning), Roscoe Lee Browne (Chief Bleeker); Runtime: 98; Palace; 1998)
“This hip attempt at neo-noir and a Quentin Tarantino type of film, uses the colorful city of New Orleans as background for its murder and kidnapping tale.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
By the title of the film, you know that betrayal must be part of the story line. This hip attempt at neo-noir and a Quentin Tarantino type of film, uses the colorful city of New Orleans as background for its murder and kidnapping tale. Two low-level criminals, Junior Armstrong (Simon Baker-Denny) and Coco Chavez (Carla Gugino), plus a con artist, Lizard Browning (Gil Bellows), decide to go big-time and hire a psychotic muscleman, Ruben (Til), to join their kidnapping team. They snatch Ben Dyson (Greg), a billionaire Bill Gates-type clone, who is a computer manufacturer. They end up holding him for a four million dollar ransom after they violently break down his home security system in order to nab him.
One snag in the operation develops as a lady appears in the hallway of Dyson’s apartment and is shot by Coco, as the lady stares right at her. It turns out that she is the wife of Senator Hornbeck (Hal Holbrook). This becomes a high-profile case and calls for a dual investigation by Federal agents (the kidnapping part) and by the local police (the murder part).
Two English actors are cast as American police, who try their hand at a Southern accent and fail to do it convincingly. One is the head of the entire investigation, FBI agent Sadie Hawkins (Emma), and the other is local homicide detective, Lieutenant David Friedman (Rickman). He whines about having a woman above him in authority, as they talk freely about sexual things in their initial introduction to each other. When his police chief (Browne) assigns him to investigate the wife of the senator’s death, he gripes and tells his chief that this is another detective’s case. “Judas” uses the formula of the reluctant cop being on a case he doesn’t want to be on, but who will work miracles in solving the case anyway.
Hornbeck threatens to remove Friedman from the case after the detective comes up with evidence the chief does not want to hear. The detective informs him that the senator’s wife is having an affair with Dyson, and the detective suspects that this is no ordinary kidnapping for ransom — somehow or other, the powerful senator is involved in it. The detective will go against police orders and continue to investigate on his own.
As a nervous accountant from Dyson’s firm, the one who will hand over the ransom money to the kidnappers, goes through the phone drill of where to drop the money off, the cops follow along and have some forced conversations on the way to stir up some humor in this poorly characterized and acted mystery. It is one that will rely on trick plots and a series of betrayals to tell its very forgettable story. One of the cop conversations mimics many of the more recent neo-noir genre films in slickness — Hawkins is reading Jim Thompson’s crime novel “The Killer Inside Me,” which he has already read and greatly admires; the main thrust from that conversation being that the book says there is only one plot in a murder mystery: that nothing is what it seems.
While Coco is holding Dyson hostage and Lizard is on the phone with the accountant, Ruben and Junior are waiting by the train tracks for the ransom money. In her conversation with the arrogant computer whiz, she discovers that he is having an affair with the senator’s wife and it suddenly dawns on her that she is being set-up by her boyfriend Junior. When the senator orders his man to kill Dyson and some of the police seem to be in on the plot, the story goes over-the-edge.
Coco, the femme fatale and sexpot, becomes human again and prevents Dyson from being executed.
Everything gets wrapped up in a nice bundle by the film’s end. Coco even gets her vengeance, as seen in the epilogue, by meeting Junior on Margarita Island 3 months later and taking care of business.
There was nothing fresh in this trashy thriller. The characters ranged from being obnoxious to being miscast. If one wished, a case could be made that Carla Gugino exuded some charm and sex appeal. There was some inventiveness in all the plot twists, but the effort wasn’t worth it. The story line and plot twists could not hold up to scrutiny, anyway. Somehow this film, for the first-time director, managed to have some entertainment value in its glossy feel and arduous attempt to keep one guessing at what will happen next, that is, if you weren’t completely turned off by it as a pointless exercise.
REVIEWED ON 11/11/99 GRADE: C-