(director/writer: Peter Sehr; screenwriters: Marie Noelle/from the novel “Yoban shi huoyan she hai shu” (Fire and Ice) by Wang Shuo; cinematographer: Guy Dufaux; editor: Christian Nauheimer; music: Darien Dahoud; cast: Adrien Brody (Jack Grace), Charlotte Ayanna (Claire Harrison), Jon Seda Charlie King), Pam Grier (Detective Fox), August Diehl (Jeff), Katherine Moennig (Debbie), Liza Jessie Peterson (Pamela), Elizabeth Regen (Sue); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Wolfram Tichy; Kino International; 2001-Germany/USA)
“To say the love story was hard to believe, is putting it mildly–it was impossible to fathom.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

I found this ‘walk on the wild side’ romantic drama hard to believe, the dialogue weak, and the story not only miserable but distasteful. German director Peter Sehr (“Kaspar Hauser: Crime Against a Man’s Soul”) and his co-writer Marie Noelle adapt this film from controversial pulp-fiction Chinese author Wang Shuo’s book “Fire and Ice.” To say the love story was hard to believe, is putting it mildly–it was impossible to fathom. Adrian Brody is in a role that is hopeless to decipher what he’s supposed to be all about. His emotionally overwrought performance might provide some sparks, but ultimately it only makes his characterization seem all the worse for the wasted energy expended. This film was doomed from the start, and has about as much to say about love as does Brody’s snakeskin jacket he wears while roaming the dark city streets. The low-budget indie was shot in Brody’s pre-stardom days and released after his Oscar in The Pianist.

Jack Grace (Adrien Brody) is a glib Kerouac-quoting hotshot petty criminal, scam artist and pimp. Behind his tough-guy veneer, supposedly, lies a poet’s soul. He’s crime partners with his best friend from the old neighborhood Charlie King, where their main scam is to dress up as policemen and extort money from Asian tourists who choose not to get arrested after they’re caught with prostitutes. The prostitutes are not really pros, but aspiring actresses looking for some easy cash. The third partner is hotel desk clerk Jeff (August Diehl), who steers the con men to the right rooms.

While Jack is watching a movie in a Lower Manhattan theater, he gets a call on his cell phone from Jeff that they have two marks set up for the phony bust. In the lobby Jack finds time to flirt with pretty refreshment stand worker Claire Harrison (Charlotte Ayanna), and though he acts like an asshole he piques her interest by saying he slept with two hundred girls. She replies that “Wilt Chamberlain had sex with 20,000 women,” so, by that measure, Jack is a punk. Jack will later run into her on the campus of Columbia University, and a destructive relationship will develop between the seemingly heartless Jack and the nice girl straight A biology student looking for kicks in her dull middle-class life. Claire sees something good in Jack that she believes he’s trying to hide because he’s afraid to fall in love. Most of the film is taken up with Jack treating Claire like shit and for some inexplicable reason the naive girl keeps coming back to him to take more abuse (somehow the filmmaker interprets this as love). Jack’s abandonment of the heartbroken Claire leads to her downward fall, where she neglects her studies, turns tricks and becomes suicidal. Jack at last reveals his soft side and becomes sick over her prostitution, but his change of heart comes too late. Why any of these melodramatics are happening, makes no sense and can’t be explained by the narrative except as contrivances.

Pam Grier plays a hard-nosed undercover vice-cop, who seems to appear whenever Jack’s in trouble. She will lock that bad-boy up, telling him that his pimping days are over for awhile and that he can write his great novel in Rikers. Of course, Jack does finish his autobiography in prison (it was started in a storage unit office space) and when he gets out two years later shows the book to a more mature Claire. But by that time this tedious film, without a point of view, has run its course, and since this was a film based on character studies– without getting the viewer to care about the characters there was nothing left to say that mattered.