(director/writer: Claire Denis; screenwriters: Lea Mysius/Andrew Litvack/based on the novel by Denis Johnson; cinematographer: Eric Gautier; editor: Guy Lecorne; music: Tindersticks; cast: Margaret Qualley (Trish Johnson), Joe Alwyn (Daniel DeHaven), Danny Ramirez (Costa Rican Cop), Benny Safdie (CIA man), Nick Romano (sub-lieutenant), John C. Reilly (American Boss), Monica Bartholomew (La senora), Stephan Proano (Vice President); Runtime: 137; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Olivier Delbosc; A24; 2022-France-in English, French, Spanish, subtitles where needed)

“Cynical film drowning in its own messiness.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The renown French director/writer Claire Denis (“35 Shots of Rum”/”High Life”) comes up short here with a rare miss in this clunky and slow-paced neo-noir political thriller based on the 1986 novel from Denis Johnson, that she updated to the current COVID period from the books look at a Nicaragua set during its Sandinista revolution days in the early 1980s. It gives us a modern day look at Central America’s Nicaragua. Co-writers Lea Mysius and Andrew Litvack keep it unsettling but with a stilted dialogue and with the romantic leads unconvincing since they have no chemistry together.

It’s an American-abroad film that never seems to get its act together as to what it’s about.

The American journalist-prostitute Trish Johnson (Margaret Qualley) uses her body to advance her career and to get her stories. When stranded in the Central American city of Managua, with her passport confiscated because she wrote government unapproved stories on kidnappings, she schemes to sneak out of there on a plane and land in Costa Rica.

At a bar Trish meets the mysterious Englishman oil company businessman, Daniel (Joe Alwyn, Taylor Swift’s current boyfriend), who is in Nicaragua supposedly on a humanitarian mission but hints are given he’s some kind of agent trying to destabilize the country. Trish prostitutes herself to him for American money, and he falls for her.

The needy Trish then meets an affable CIA agent (Benny Safdie, in a cameo), hiding his dark side, and we have already seen her amusing editor of a travel magazine (John C. Reilly), as Trish’s boss appears in a Skype.

It’s a chaotic, titillating and cynical film drowning in its own messiness. Qualley’s weird performance is an interesting one, but not enough to keep me interested in characters I’m not interested in.

Stars at Noon never figures out what it’s about, and strains to be poignant when it tries to be relevant.

It played at the Cannes Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 9/26/2022  GRADE: C+