Film Review – Jade, Species, Crimson Tide


Simple-Minded

(Originally published in L:Scene, November 1995)

Good cast, great director, legendary producer (Robert Evans). What a shame that Jade is written by Joe Eszterhas, a man seemingly incapable of expanding on a good idea. Jade comes with pretensions but deep down it’s nothing more than an after-11pm-on-Sky erotic thriller. It’s an unresolved war between a hackneyed, artless script and a real return to form for dear old William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist and The French Connection.

A San Franciscan Stephen Ward-a-like is messily murdered and public prosecutor David Caruso is called in to give the verdict. “This was rage,” he says and he’s possibly right. He’s also right to think of possible career advancement since the victim had some pictures of compromising positions between the Governor and a prostitute in his safe. Could he have killed him? Could she? Or could it be the mysterious Jade, a woman with an almost legendary sexual appetite who seems to have screwed her way through most of San Francisco and enjoyed it as well?

So, Jagged Edge meets Basic Instinct then – Joe Eszterhas wrote them all. Both of those films, whilst successful, were decidedly overrated and Eszterhas clearly has no desire to do anything new with these formulas. Plus the actual plot has more holes than Bikini Atoll; you always know you’re onto a real dog when a character has his brakes cut early on and the incident is never mentioned again.

So three cheers for wily old canine Friedkin, who manages to make this mess almost bearable. The whole thing is superbly shot and he manages to get a good performance from Caruso as the only man around actually to have never slept with Jade, despite being in love with her. Linda Fiorentino fares less well in a cipher of a role. She is also required to shed clothes with much abandon; something she is far too good an actress to need to do.

It’s fitting that the most memorable scene should be that old Friedkin stand by, the car chase. Here, a hell-for-leather vertical descent down the oft-filmed San Francisco streets, in which you can physically feel every bump and hole along the way then makes a left turn into a gaudy and crowded Chinese celebration with the chase suddenly pitched at an agonizing snail’s pace. Wonder if Eszterhas wrote that into the script?

The first scene of Species is a killer. A young girl, kept in a scientific observation cell, is gassed with cyanide. Grim but tearful Ben Kingsley looks on. But the little girl improbably survives and escapes. Right from the start you’re interested but Species can’t help but let you down, enjoyable rubbish though it is.

For a start it’s a poor man’s Jurassic Park. There’s a lot of nonsense about alien DNA being spliced with humans and there’s a team of disparate B-list actors on the hunt for the monster. For Sir Dickie, Sam Neill, Laura Dern et al, here read grizzly Ben, Michael Madsen (as the action man hero!), Marg Helgenberger, Alfred Molina and Forest Whitaker. But whereas with Steven Spielberg you get his elegantly simple plot structures, here we have a lot of hopeless running around and ineffectual character studies worthy of Doctor Who.

With our ‘team’ tepidly on her heels, the little girl escapes on a train and changes via cocoon – the one genuinely disturbing scene in the film – into Natasha Henstridge. And because she’s now past puberty her biological clock is ticking like a timebomb late for a conference. She’s not the only one. Biologist Helgenberger is getting the hots for Madsen, despite the fact that he “hunts men”.

“So what do you do out in the Valley?” asks Madsen with all the charm of a recently mugged pork chop.

“Pine for guys like you?” she replies hopefully. Like the rest of the script it’s about as convincing as Eddie Large’s Cliff Richard.

But enough of this soap opera stuff, where’s the gore? It’s portentously announced in the opening title that H.R. Giger, designer of the alien in Alien designed the alien. Finally we get to see it. Henstridge shags an oblivious Molina. “Oh I enjoyed that immensely” pants Molina in the most British way ever, his mind clearly on Jill Gascoine. Henstridge kills him and turns into… the alien from Alien. Oh well, it’s good to see Giger didn’t tax his fevered mind too much.

The rest is predictable: The Brits die, the survivors chase the alien down a sewer, Madsen kills it with the immortal cry “let go you motherfucker”… there is even a little scene in case anyone fancies a sequel. There is much that isn’t explained but that isn’t the point. Like Hitchcock’s regular McGuffin the message being sent here is, ‘never mind sense, don’t you want to a really good looking woman in the buff and lots of stylised gore?’ Hmm… recommended.

If you want a properly visceral film try Crimson Tide, a claustrophobic and smokily intense mainstream thriller. Sweatily chewing up all the submarine cliches there are it delivers excitement by the ballast tank-load.

The Cold War film doesn’t exist anymore but then it hardly needed to exist in the first place. Hollywood didn’t need a load of commies to rail against; just about anybody would’ve done. Nowadays of course, everybody does.

Gene Hackman is the captain of a nuclear submarine eager and ready to fight against any enemy his commander-in-chief points him at. “As of now we are back in business,” he delightedly tells his new Executive Officer Denzel Washington when Russian Nationalists seize control of nuclear warheads. Denzel isn’t so eager and this is where the true conflict arises.

These days, Tony Scott is a fantastic director. After The Last Boy Scout and True Romance his films, whilst still retaining that polished, commercial sheen, have miraculously turned into gripping, jaw-dropping slabs of cinema. Against the contrasting wail of a male voice choir Denzel and Gene’s slight differences are exaggerated by the conflict. Denzel is tight-lipped over Gene’s “simple-minded” ways but his tight lips are pissing Gene off.

Aside from some glaring rewriting from a certain Mr. Tarantino (“I’m Captain Kirk and you’re Scotty”, metaphors Denzel to his bemused communications officer, “if you don’t give me warp power a billion people are going to die”) and a inappropriately jolly and upbeat ending (well it was either that or a nuclear holocaust) this is a super-cool, militaristic thriller with more twists and turns than a corkscrew rollercoaster. Cold War, shmold war – all thrillers should be this good, regardless of the filmic enemy.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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