Blaze (1989)

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 09/19/02 07:45:31

"A fun flick and a big ass performance from Paul Newman."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

There are a few actors that can turn any average movie into an unmissable flick just by their mere presence in a lead role. Think Malkovich, Brando, Cusack, Hoffman, Pacino, De Niro, Nicholson Ė and make sure Paul Newman is on the list.

As Louisiana Governor Big Earl Long, a politician torn between reelection and the stripper heís bedding, Newman lays down the kind of performance that simply cannot be denied. Is Big Earl crazy? Is he just eccentric? Is he smarter than everyone else in the room? Nobody seems able to work it out, least of all the audience, as Newman drifts in and out of madness, dementia, good old boy charm and fox-like cunning, giving what may be his best performance of the last twenty years in the process. Lolita Davidovich plays Blaze Starr, the simple redheaded hillbilly gal who seeks her fortune as a country and western singer and ends up shaking her tang for the lads on a strip club stage, only to catch the eye of Big Earl.

But Big Earl isnít your average politician. Seemingly not giving a damn about his public image, Earl tomcats all over town with his new gal and refutes every claim that heís doing so with the yell, ďThatís a damn lie!Ē As his popularity plummets and the tax investigators close in, Long finds comfort in the arms of his stripper and boinks her up and down the state Ė the press be damned.

Writer/director Ron Shelton, the man behind such sports classics as Bull Durham, Blue Chips, White Men Canít Jump, Tin Cup and Cobb, perhaps stretches himself too far when dealing with a non-sporting theme, as the flick never seems to really show any teeth. Set against the backdrop of 1950ís Louisiana, this isnít a big budget epic, itís more a down home slice of Americana, much in the same vein as Bull Durham was - small sets, not a lot of action, but a lot of well-drawn characters that you find yourself warming to quickly.

With a first name like Lolita, youíd have expected Davidovich to perform her fair share of on-screen nudity, but as much as this is a film featuring a stripper in one of the lead roles, itís not anything close to a skin flick. Sure, Davidovich gets her clothes off on more than one occasion, but Shelton never plays it for exploitation and her strong performance makes the skin scenes almost incidental. Newman, on the other hand, powers through his role with tussled hair, beer belly and the wildest of wild eyes, totally immersing himself in the role and bringing a ton of life to a character that could easily have been a clichť.

Never anywhere near as boring as you might expect looking at the video box, Blaze is a worthwhile rental or Saturday afternoon Superstation special. With strong performances, well-paced direction and a surprising sense of humor, it makes for fun viewing.

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