In late 1930’s Bay City, a brooding, down on his luck detective is hired to find the ex-lover of a glamorous heiress.
I don’t think it’s a good sign when, while watching a movie, you start thinking about other movies. I don’t mean how the film you’re viewing is connected to others but that you’re recalling other films that are better than what you’re being subjected to. I had that sensation while watching Neil Jordan’s “Marlowe,” a throwback to the movie mysteries from the 30’s and 40’s. Adapted from the novel “The Black-Eyed Blonde” by John Banville, this tired production sports wonderful period details, a nostalgic callback to the Golden Age of Hollywood and vivid reminders of what it meant to dress when people had style. It looks great but it winds up being an empty piece of work as the story is a retread of a retread, a by-the-numbers tale that seemingly goes nowhere because we’ve been there before…many times.
Philip Marlowe (a miscast Liam Neeson) is hanging around his smoke-filled office one day when in walks Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger), dressed to kill, the personification of desire. (Note: I’ve often wondered why Marlowe and his ilk, who’ve been screwed over repeatedly by temptresses such as these, don’t recognize a Femme Fatale when one crosses their path.) She wants him to find her missing lover, Niko Peterson (Francois Arnaud), who has seemingly fallen off the map. With nothing better to do, the gumshoe takes the case and proceeds to encounter a group of characters from Central Casting, as well as taking a beating or two.
There’s Clare’s jealous mother, former film star Dorothy Cavendish (Jessica Lange), duplicitous club owner, Floyd Hanson (Danny Huston), a man of great wealth, The Ambassador (Mitchell Mullen), a purveyor of rare antiquities, Lou Hendricks (Alan Cumming) and a woman with a tortured past, Niko’s sister Lynn (Daniela Melchior). Each has something to do with Peterson and how they are all connected involves corruption at the highest and lowest levels of society.
If you’ve read any of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels or seen “The Big Sleep” or “Chinatown,” you’re likely to experience déjà vu on multiple occasions while sitting through this. Again, I have no problem with films that revisit well-established genres if they put a new spin on the form or, at the very least, bring a sense of enthusiasm to the project. Neither is present in “Marlowe,” Jordan and his cast simply going through the motions, while images of Humphrey Bogart, Elliott Gould and Robert Mitchum played in my head.