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December 12, 2008

'Dark Streets' is paved with pretentious nonsense

"Dark Streets" is not a musical, though it does showcase original music performed by Etta James, Dr. John, Aaron Neville and Richie Sambora, among others. It's not a period piece, though it is set in a vaguely speak-easy-era city filled with moody lighting, chorus girls and cufflinks. It's not a comedy, though ridiculously stock characters say things like, "That new little pony of yours? She's the one riding you."

So what is "Dark Streets"? It is "an atmospheric film-noir musical fantasy," according to the publicity materials, and we'll give it the first part of that cluster bomb. It's atmospheric like a steaming pile.

This pretentious mess of a movie begins with a gunshot, then a lit match and then a speech by our intermittent narrator for the next 83 minutes, Prince (nope, not that one; a guy named "Toledo"). He's a mohawked impresario who French inhales and dances with a cane as he tells us his tale of Chaz (Gabriel Mann of "Mad Men"), a power company scion, a prodigal in mustache and ascot who has just opened a new nightclub on the heels of his father's supposed suicide. He begins a drunken inquiry that gets him befriended by a humorless cop (Elias Koteas), who then introduces him to a femme fatale (Bijou Philips); all the while, the pretty Mann drinks lots of whisky out of beautiful tumblers.

It's a suitably noir story line, one that may have worked better as a play (this feature was adapted from Glenn M. Stewart's "The City Club"), but it's hard to imagine the horrible dialogue and boilerplate morality being any better on the stage. But credit where it's due: the tumblers are great, as are the shirts, the interiors and the skirts. About halfway through, it becomes clear that the Samuel Goldwyn Co. would have done better just to do a particularly decadent New York Times Style Magazine photo shoot.

Sadly, director Rachel Samuels drags us through a ham-fisted plot with lubed-up lenses and tight overhead shots instead. There is the music -- songs by George Acogny sung by James, Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan, et al., and accompanied by Keith Young-choreographed dances -- but none of it moves the plot forward or seems to have any direct relationship to the action on screen. They're just good tunes, which is some consolation, but just buy the soundtrack if you must throw your money away.

The visuals don't add much. Samuels seems oddly enthralled with the style of mid-'90s MTV dreck, but all that Vaseline on the lenses doesn't make "Dark Streets" any less painful.

Posted by riesambo at December 12, 2008 10:23 PM