By Michael Wilmington, Tribune Movie Critic
Film noir is a genre that usually presents the world as a huge trap closing in on the main character. But isn’t the genre itself beginning to look like a huge trap closing in on ambitious young filmmakers? For every smart and creative modern variation on the form — a “Fargo,” “Pulp Fiction” or “Red Rock West” — we get an increasing number of uninspired retreads, look-alikes and vaguely stylish wannabes.
How many femme fatales, bewildered anti-heroes, guilty rich plotters and brutal crooks can the modern market take? Just this week, there are three examples: Robert Altman’s “The Gingerbread Man” (see review on Page A), German filmmaker Volker Schlondorff glossy “Palmetto” (see review on Page C) and young writer-director Juan J. Campanella’s lower-budget “Love Walked In” (originally called “The Bitter End”). “Palmetto” is slightly better, but both movies suffer from fancy posturing — as if the filmmakers were trying to dream their ’90s subjects back to the heart of the ’40s and ’50s and got stuck in some cinematic time warp.
“Love Walked In” offers Denis Leary as cynical Jack Morrissey, the lounge bar piano player and would-be Gershwin Esque composer who likes to insult his rich customers but gets away with it because his chanteuse wife, Vicki Rivas (Aitana Sanchez Gijon), is so beautiful she catches the eye of one of the richest patrons: bar-owner Fred Moore (Terence Stamp). Michael Badalucco is Jack’s old friend Eddie Bianco, a desperate little divorce case shamus who draws him into a sleazy plot to photograph Fred and Vicki in intimate situations and collect a bundle from Moore’s rich spouse. Gene Canfield plays the movie’s most original character, a seemingly soft-hearted torpedo named Joey.
Meanwhile, Moira Kelly, Danny Nucci and Neal Huff are fictional characters in another noiresque crime thriller that Jack concocts as he tells us what happened to him and Vicki. That parallel story doesn’t quite jibe, but it does give this movie a sense of artiness and Jack a portentous last line they otherwise would lack.
“Love Walked In” takes place in a lounge bar (The Blue Cat), beach houses, mansions and seedy streets. And it’s built around a series of scenes in which smoothie Moore (suavely played by Stamp) tries to seduce Vicki, and Jack and Eddie plot to catch them. In between, Vicki displays a frail torch song voice and delivery and ex-alcoholic Jack tickles the ivories and blasts the customers. (Perhaps the inspiration here is Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player.”)
There’s an obvious social conflict here, but it isn’t much more developed than the central situation in that camp romance hit, “Indecent Proposal,” where Robert Redford kept propositioning Demi Moore with a million dollars right in front of Woody Harrelson. The story of “Love Walked In” doesn’t come to much and neither does the story-within-a-story, which is marginally more bloody, considerably less interesting and mercifully shorter.
Leary is a good actor, but “Love Walked In” gives him far too much sneering time. But the film looks good, and both Canfield and Badalucco have shiny moments. Thank noir for small favors.