DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
PHOENIX (director: Danny Cannon; screenwriter: Eddie Richey; cinematographer: James L. Carter; editor: Zach Staenberg; cast: Ray Liotta (Harry), Anthony LaPaglia (Henshaw), Jeremy Piven (Fred), Daniel Baldwin (James), Anjelica Huston (Leila), Tom Noonan (Chicago), Giancarlo Esposito (Louie), Xander R. Berkeley (Clyde), Kari Wuhrer (Katie ), Brittany Murphy (Veronica); Runtime: 105; Trimark/Lakeshore Entertainment; 1998)

 
"It's a film that will not rise from either its ashes or clichés."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A mindless film noir set in Arizona. The film it resembles most is "Bad Lieutenant" (1992). It's a bleak story about a cop who is a compulsive gambler with bad luck. He's faced with a situation where he must pay back $32,000 to a vicious bookie called Chicago (Noonan), or else square the debt by killing a prisoner he has in custody. His other option is that one of his crooked detective partners will do him a favor and kill Chicago. Chicago has a shaved head and talks like Sylvester the Cat with a lisp, and has a number of enforcers working for him.

In imitation of Pulp Fiction, there's lots of frivolous talk. Liotta talks about TV cartoons and the unnecessary construction of gigantic doors and walls to keep "King Kong" out of a village. It's a film the Liotta character saw a 100 times. He also talks about the great bluesman Robert Johnson and of Dostoyevsky being a compulsive gambler.

Harry (Liotta) is a wise guy cop with a gambling problem, who is teamed with three other rogue cops. They all have a bad attitude about their jobs and they're all sleazebags. Henshaw (LaPaglia) moonlights as a strong-arm man for a loan shark/pimp called Louie (Esposito). James (Baldwin) plays sleazy jokes on his pals and is corrupt. Fred (Piven) is uptight and goes along with all the foul play. His wife Katie (Wuhrer) is a whore and is having affairs with other cops on the force. Her affair with his police department boss (Xander R. Berkeley), is the most deadly one.

Harry is a good guy with an honorable code of ethics and would be fine, if his gambling habit didn't make him so twisted. That he's good-hearted is shown twice, when he warns the enforcers bothering his landlord to never bother him again and when he refuses to have sex with an underage vixen (Brittany). He tries to make a relationship with the vixen's bartender mother (Anjelica Huston) work, but the two have been hurt so much that their relationship is slow in getting started because of mistrust.

The main action takes place when the four rogue cops decide to knock off Louie's nude dancing club at 2:30 a.m.. They end up shooting Louie and two of his henchmen, and are forced to call a locksmith to open the safe. The film turns even nastier, as a series of double-crosses take place and it becomes clear that the rogue cops have different reasons for pulling the robbery. It leads to a violent shootout and with Harry throwing his badge on the floor while on the run, but not before he squares all his debts and takes care of all those who screwed him. Harry dies living by his code: that he will never welsh on a bet or betray a friend.

The film has nothing to say that makes sense, the acting was forgettable, the dialogue was trite, and all the characters seemed to be out to lunch. It's a film that will not rise from either its ashes or clichés.

REVIEWED ON 5/17/2001     GRADE: C-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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