Released: Aug 01st, 1994
Running Time: 90
Director: Jim Enright
Company: Sin City Entertainment
Cast: Nikki Sinn, Sydney Dance, Jonathan Morgan, Jace Rocker, Steven St. Croix, Sierra (I), T.T. Boy, Asia Carrera, Melanie Masglow, Randy West
Critical Rating: AAAA
In the immortal words of Buddy Holly, "when you're feeling sad and blue, you know love's made a fool of you."
This could also serve as a fatalistic refrain offered up by Steven St. Croix's character in Chinatown, an evocative video noir collaboration from Jonathan Morgan/Jim Enright that draws its structural inspiration, not as much as you'd expect from Robert Towne's mainstream film of the same name, as from Once Upon A Time in America.
In a collage of opium-inspired, beads of facial sweat flashbacks, we discover that cop St. Croix, himself an addict, has been derelict in the line of duty. His breach of conduct has lead to his partner (Jim Enright) taking a bullet in a drug bust gone haywire.
To his credit, St. Croix's law and order instincts are good, but his timing for hauling out the personal vices sucks. He's harped on Enright for accepting information from Jace Rocker, playing a strung-out snitch who seems to be suffering Britt Morgan withdrawal" in his scene with Enright. St. Croix's entreaties fall upon deaf ears but the situation is made resoundingly worse by St. Croix's failure to provide backup for his partner during the raid.
Besieged with guilt and all those other little maladies such as misguided passion which noir characters feel compelled to endure, St. Croix, now on suspension, is drawn into a murder case. With a medley of three slugs from a .45, playing a raspy tune in Randy West's even raspier rib cage, Randy's wife and St. Croix's former lover, Asia Carrera, becomes the number one suspect.
It's here that Chinatown, though resoundingly true to the gripping existential doom of the noir art form, betrays it to some extent by becoming as obvious as a chopstick jutting out of an eardrum. Having established a reasonably acceptable premise and high definition characters, Morgan's script doesn't just deposit clues to be conveniently discovered by the audience. It announces them with brass bands, bullhorns and the tacit subtlety of a shootout in a John Woo film.
While St. Croix's investigating the murder scene, the ubiquitous J.B. (he's outfitted like a henchman, but his relationship to the storyline is up for debate) materializes out of the ozone to announce that West was a GREEK antiques dealer. This is, of course, before St. Croix and J.B. engage in an eyebrow knitting contest.
Okay, we get the point. West, you see, has left a bloodied clue pointing to his killer, by spelling out the name, "Venus" on the headboard of his bed. West, as we're expected to believe, according to good mythological etiquette, should have scrawled the name, "Aphrodite," instead. Perhaps this is Morgan's contribution to the art of misdirection. However, if my life's blood were coursing out of my chest at the moment as West's is, I might be inclined to brevity, too.
On the whole, Chinatown works effectively thanks to an obvious sincerity imparted by the cast, director Enright and Morgan to the project. Sexually, Carrera's first scene (with St. Croix) shares twin billing with one involving T.T. Boy and Melanie Masglow. Though poetically justified because of the obvious physical similarities between the two women, this co-mingling of reality and St. Croix's hectic drug euphoria, is another one of those intercut scenes where you're not exactly sure whose Column A is going into whose column B at the moment. (Okay, you can tell when it's Masglow as she keeps one leg up like a pointer in a quail hunt.)
West, remaining a bastard in character, gives Carrera a royal doggie thumping but the look on her face suggests she's been pulled over for a speeding ticket on her way to an aerobics class, suppose this is Asia keeping in character. Morgan as West's business associate, John Horner, engages three hookers in a warehouse in what becomes astrap-on dP when Sierra works Nikki Sinns ass as little Jack sits in his corner working Nikki from the other end.
When he's not busy turning his eyebrows into wombats, St. Croix is as low key as he's likely to get. (Compare this to the antic proclamations he delivers in The Darker Side this month.) He's physically well suited for these grim character roles and delivers a pretty good anal scene with Sahara though, for my money, the missionary position is wasted camera effort for its inherent visual obstacles.
Bearing in mind that it's essentially a sex feature, Chinatown, for what it is, makes for an effective reading of corruption, amorality, degradation, anxiety and despiritualization. Just another hot time in Raymond Chandler's old town tonight, but definitely a strong contender for Best Video Feature of the year.