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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 22.22%
Average: 11.11%
Pretty Bad66.67%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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Devil in a Blue Dress
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Weak 'Chinatown' Wannabe"
2 stars

Mostly a miscalculation from the start to finish despite a couple of attributes.

About an hour into the frustratingly uninvolving Devil in a Blue Dress, two things happen in a scene worth note: one, when two men engaged in a fistfight in a house fall to the floor, the sound of change spilling out of their pockets can be heard (a first to this moviegoer's ears); two, the actor Don Cheadle, playing a trigger-happy sociopath named Mouse, enters the movie for the first time and gives the proceedings a much-needed shot of adrenaline. Up until then this adaptation of author Walter Mosley's first entry in his well-regarded detective series, which Carl Franklin has written the screenplay for and directed, has been pretty lethargic stuff. Set in Los Angeles in the year 1948 and starring Denzel Washington, Devil in a Blue Dress wants to function as an African-American version of Roman Polanski's outstanding Chinatown, with Washington's Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlings, a WWII veteran and unemployed machinist with a mortgage on his house to pay, letting himself be hired out by a white stranger named Dewitt Albright (Tom Sizemore) for a private-eye gig. DeWitt says he's working for none other than the L.A. mayor, who wants a lover of his, Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals), who's up and disappeared on him, located; being that she has black friends and frequents black establishments, DeWitt needs someone of that skin color to go where he can't. Easy insists he doesn't do this kind of work, but an advance payment of one-hundred dollars changes his mind. As anyone who's seen Chinatown knows, what appears to be a trivial case turns out to be anything but, with Easy inadvertently becoming involved in murder and one double cross after another. Knowing he's way out of his league, he reaches out to his childhood friend Mouse in Houston, whose reputation is well-known even among the blacks in the City of Angels; where Easy is measured and contemplative, Mouse is impulsive and violent to the core. The way the talented Cheadle understatedly plays him, Mouse doesn't get any real kick out of killing; it's just that, with a minimum of two guns on him at all times, he kills simply because he can't think of any reason not to. In a movie that could use more humor, the funniest bit comes when Easy makes his way back to his car where he left Mouse and another man compliant in the murder scheme, and the man is dead on the ground. When Easy protests, Mouse calmly reasons, "If you didn't want him killed, why did you leave him with me?"

Cheadle is extraordinary, and if Washington were as good and Easy were as tantalizing a character, Devil in a Blue Dress might've amounted to something, but neither is the case. Washington, more charismatic than talented, coasts on a manufactured appeal that only carries him so far; he can't make more of a role than what's been written, and, despite being in every single scene, he makes for one boring protagonist. (He gave a much more interesting performance the same year as the futuristic cop in Brett Leonard's slightly undervalued Virtuosity.) As for Easy, Franklin hasn't solved a fundamental flaw inherent in the material: that of an inexperienced gumshoe who doesn't have the instinct for detective work; the story's twists and turns are not only completely allusive to the audience, but Easy as well -- we don't get the pleasure of seeing him unearth and deduce the clues. Chinatown's J.J. Gittes had the rug pulled out from under him on a few occasions, but along the way he displayed a good deal of smarts; here, we see the goings-on through Easy's eyes yet he's little more than a tour guide. With Easy's nonchalance and a weak plot, nothing much in the movie seems to be at stake. (Easy also provides a narration, but with strained hardboil dialogue like "People were peeing on my head and telling me it was rain," it doesn't do us a whole lot of favors.) Neither does Franklin's mechanical directing, which has none of the snap and tautness of his much-praised 1992 crime drama One False Move. The cramped compositions are boxy, the editing rhythms are sluggish, and the scenes themselves have all the immediacy of an ice floe -- Franklin hasn't imparted much of a cinematic interpretation onto things in the inspired vein of, say, Bill Duke's also-L.A.-set Deep Cover. Was it that he had so much respect for Mosley's novel that he needn't bother with doing something other than mere presentation? He's employed two of the best in the business, cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and composer Elmer Bernstein, and gotten only routine contributions from them. And he allowed himself the major miscalculation in casting Flashdance's Jennifer Beals in the main female who may or may not be a femme fatale. Beals, struggling to be carnal and convey mysteriousness, still can't read a line to save her life, and when she tries seducing Easy it's as clumsy as a drunk fumbling around for his car keys. Beals should count her lucky stars she doesn't have a scene with Cheadle; it'd be akin to a maestro conductor paired up with a tone-deaf opera singer.

Best if you just fast-forward to the one-hour mark when Cheadle appears and struts his stuff.

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originally posted: 03/22/14 01:14:34
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell interesting not great 4 stars
4/15/14 Richard Brandt Gets points for Don Cheadle's career-maker of a performance. 3 stars
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  29-Sep-1995 (R)



Directed by
  Carl Franklin

Written by
  Carl Franklin

  Denzel Washington
  Tom Sizemore
  Jennifer Beals
  Don Cheadle
  Maury Chaykin

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