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Blue City
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by Jack Sommersby

"Flaring Nostrils vs. Who-Cares Villains"
1 stars

Died a quick box office death after nauseating viewers and infuriating critics.

In the execrable crime tale Blue City, Judd Nelson gives what's quite possibly the most obnoxious and boring performance by an actor in an action-hero role, and is so detrimental to the already-flawed proceedings you're left wondering if the movie would've worked better had someone with a wee bit more vitality and screen presence by the likes of, say, Pee Wee Herman been cast instead. His social misfit Billy Turner has just returned after a five-year hiatus to his childhood south-Florida town where his father had been its well-respected mayor for many years; and not ten minutes after getting off the bus he starts an unprovoked fight in a bar with an old nemesis without fear of the repercussions -- he just knows daddy will bail him out of jail and be given a mere slap on the wrist by the local law. But Billy's been away and out of touch for too long: he's informed his father was murdered nine months prior, the case is still unsolved, and his gold-digging stepmother Malvina (Anita Morris) has inherited all of the wealth and opened a successful casino/night club just outside the town limits. Suffice to say, he's hell-bent on revenge and suspects the stepmother's powerful casino-managing husband Perry Kerch (Scott Wilson) of being the culprit since he had the most to gain, and is offered a ten-thousand-dollar bribe by the man to get out of town; of course, Billy refuses and makes clear he's staying until he finds the killer. The police chief, Luther Reynolds (Paul Winfield), an old friend of his father's and sympathetic to his plight, gives Billy a wide berth; and with the help of two high-school friends, police clerk Annie Ray (Ally Sheedy) and her boat-chartering brother Joey (David Caruso), he harasses Kerch and inflicts damage to both his club and dog-track operations to, well, we're never quite sure. An instinctive, incisive thespian would see the need for combining valor and vulnerability, but all the one-note Nelson brings to the party is flaring nostrils, a flat monochromatic voice, and a zenith-level smart-alecky attitude that grates on the nerves like a five-alarm toothache. Nelson managed to get by in supporting roles as the rebellious teenager in John Hughes's tendentious The Breakfast Club and the flawed group leader in the slightly-underappreciated St. Elmo's Fire, but based on this he possesses neither the verity not variety to make it as a leading man. Devoid of charisma and imagination, he simply can't make more of a character than what's been written; and since Billy hasn't any semblances of nuance we're left watching a limited actor striving to generate the kind of excitement he simply isn't capable of.

But with the atrocious writing and directing, no actor could've possibly elevated Blue City to a higher level, though a more appealing one would've made it somewhat easier to sit through. Taken from a novel by the celebrated author Ross Macdonald, the screenplay was co-written by the talented Walter Hill (48 Hrs., Southern Comfort), and the music score was composed by Hill regular Ry Cooder, and the movie is badly in need of Hill's trademark kinetic staging. Unfortunately, the directing reins were handed to the debuting Michelle Manning, who can't frame a shot or shape a scene or sustain tension to save her life. The juxtaposing is often uncouth, the imagery frequently fragmentary, the editing so imprecise that you can never get your bearings -- it's like sitting through an eighty-three-minute rock video with the television mounted on a rollercoaster car. Nothing in Blue City builds to anything of a narrative purpose; it's just a miasma of tired thrown-together bits accentuated by a lot of frenetic cutting and lurid poster-color lighting. Where Hill would've installed momentum and clarity, Manning gives us bombastic film aesthetics that work us over with the subtlety of a sledgehammer; granted, the storyline and characters couldn't be more generic, but a better director could've given some disciplined oomph to the pulpy material so we'd at least have something genuine to respond to. Billy's forever creating fracases (blowing up Kerch's car, sabotaging a dog race and robbing the money room, smashing casino slot machines to smithereens), and since they have absolutely nothing to do with getting him closer to solving his father's murder, we're nonplussed at all the incidental shenanigans. (Besides, the identity of the killer can easily be deduced what with the dire lack of viable suspects.) Couple this with Nelson's abrasive acting rendering Billy someone we have no emotional stake in, and you have a mystery angle of no allure and a juvenilely temperamental hero we wish would just get stuffed. The ultra-contrived Billy/Annie Ray romantic subplot is dead weight (Nelson has all the sexual magnetism of a tsetse fly), the action sequences inchoately staged (it comes off like second-unit directing), the dialogue of the boo-hiss variety ("Until I find who killed my father, your life is gonna suck!"), and the paralleling of the villain's insatiable appetite for both food and money mind-numbingly otiose (yes, it's that blatantly literalized). Sheedy and Wilson are game but defeated by their humdrum roles, but Caruso underplays affectingly, and Winfield brings some much-needed pizzazz to the proceedings -- it's they, rather than the hopelessly miscast Nelson, who make you feel you're at a real movie.

Catch a "Miami Vice" episode instead.

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originally posted: 10/21/13 10:24:36
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User Comments

12/07/13 Pearl Bogdan Horrible! Why would anybody even put money into having this made? 1 stars
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  02-May-1986 (R)

  N/A (18)


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