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Poison Rose, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Smooth John Travolta Star Vehicle."
3 stars

Barely released to theaters, it's slightly a cut-above it's competition in this lackluster age of cinema.

The low-key crime drama The Poison Rose starring John Travolta has been more or less critically lambasted six ways from Sunday, but I found it rather appealing as far as these things go, finely textured and involving from start to finish just as long as you go in not expecting anything particularly award-worthy. The movie is set in the year 1978, and opens in a second-floor Los Angeles apartment building where Travolta's burnt-out, alcoholic private detective Carson Phillips is accosted by henchmen of a local bookie who he owes fifty-thousand in gambling debts to. (The movie theater on the ground floor has a marquee displaying the showing of The Maltese Falcon, that classic of private-eye tales.) The habitually-armed Carson manages to allude them and makes his way to his office where his secretary announces the arrival of a new client, a wealthy woman with an open checkbook who wants him to go to his old hometown of Galveston, Texas, to see why she's being given the run-around at her elderly aunt's sanitarium when she tries to see her; Carson initially objects because he has bad memories of this "small town" (it was small, at least, back in the '70s) but soon relents when offered a hefty retainer. Driving his spiffy red convertible he arrives in Galveston after a twenty-tear hiatus and makes contact with an old comrade Doc (Morgan Freeman, more focused and forceful than usual), a former bookie and now one of the biggest power-brokers in the Lone Star state to get information. It turns out Carson was once a star college football player who could have been one of the best but disgraced himself by betting on his own games and shaving points; and Travolta, with long dark-blonde hair and shaggy beard, looks the part through and through - this marvelous actor suggests a beat-out man who's learned to contemplate what he says ahead of time so as not to get himself into unprepared hot water (his once-gift of genuine alacrity was lost long ago). It turns out this sanitarium is a creepily-sparse place where the presiding physician, a Dr. Miles Mitchell (Brendan Fraser), clearly has ulterior motives in his refusal to let Carson see the aunt, with a noticeable absence of everyday operations apparent in this supposedly-prestige place. Added to which, Carson makes waves with another long-lost buddy Sheriff Bing Walsh (Robert Patrick) who's in cahoots with the influential Doc, and his former flame Jayne Hunt (Famke Janssen), a recent widow of an offshore-oil tycoon who was responsible for environmentally toxic pollution affecting the entire community, with a young daughter who's newly married to Galveston's star college player known for his domestic abuse who winds up mysteriously dead during a game after being tackled and convulses and foams at the mouth on the field. The Poison Rose doesn't boast much in the way of a plot, and that's okay because most of the characters are creditably developed and director George Gallo keeps things moving swiftly along (you won't be bored), with the Galveston milieu deftly rendered so you're never in any doubt you've been suitably transported to a distinct time and place (it takes some getting used to not seeing cellphones being used to research details and not calling in emergencies when the need arises). Gallo, who wrote the extraordinary action-buddy comedy Midnight Run and wrote and directed the unsuccessful comedy Trapped in Paradise, has staged the shootouts with finesse and a respect for spatial logistics, and his expressive widescreen compositions give the material a visual aliveness that helps glide over the material's weaknesses - we willingly respond to it because it keeps in mind the viewer's need to be apprehensively goosed and tickled. And putting everything to the recommendable mark is Travolta, who gives his finest performance in eighteen years since his indelible turn as the timid boat-maker in the otherwise-contemptible Domestic Disturbance. True, he's invited his fair of share of scorn for a good many disposable direct-to-video efforts (though I still can't understand the universal contempt for the acceptable Gotti), but here he contributes an agreeable, easygoing piece of acting that's thankfully short of artifice and effortlessly wins us over by sheer command of his undeniable talent. All told The Poison Rose isn't an entirely satisfying whodunit (in truth, it's more of a whydunit), but it adeptly gets you from scene to scene (though Fraser's flat-out horrific overacting is simply painful to witness). The movie may not add up to much in the end, but I didn't mind putting time into it - it rewards you with an unforced down-home incorrigible quality that's simply hard to resist.

Don't go in expecting much, and it should sate the demands of an undemanding viewer.

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originally posted: 12/02/20 13:47:50
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  24-May-2019 (R)



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