Directed by James B. Harris. Starring Wesley Snipes, Dennis Hopper, Lolita Davidovich, Viggo Mortensen, Dan Hedaya, Valerie Perrine. (1993)
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., April 23, 1993
Gerald Petievich's novels are usually tensely atmospheric thrillers that feed on themselves, layering scenes, characters and dialogue until Los Angeles, the city that seems to cover half the earth, is closed in upon itself. In this adaptation of one of Petievich's first books, Money Men (which I haven't read) writer/director Harris gets the look and the pace right but somehow the film doesn't quite make it. Harris does capture the rhythms of the city in this very carefully plotted tale, infusing the film with a surprising energy. Two cons (Hopper and Mortensen) just out of the joint hook up together in a counterfeit money-based rip-off scam. Hopper is very much a Svengali to Mortensen, manipulating and lying to him. When they bump off a Treasury agent in a rip-off, two other agents (Snipes and Hedaya) come after them with a vengeance. The film carefully layers scenes showing all the men involved in similar relationships and having to make difficult career decisions. The failure, I think, surprisingly, is Snipes. He's too clean, too together, too focused for the lead character and with this kind of assurance in the hero, the kind of Chandleresque low-life plot, background and characters seem artificial. Snipes's performance keeps reminding us that this is a movie, he walks into each scene as though he's raring to act. The rest of the cast is terrific, especially Hopper, who really nails his charming con artist, a character caught up in his own con, who really has no idea where to go. As usual, Hedaya is right on target in an impressive performance. There is an outstanding supporting cast including Seymour Cassel and Tony Lo Bianco. Davidovich plays a whore with a heart of gold, really, and Mortensen has a girlfriend who likes to be treated rough. In general, the film isn't kind to women. One might argue that that's reflective of the fictional world portrayed more than the moviemaker's instincts but it's hard to shake the feeling that Harris's take on women is a bit repulsive (despite a bang-up performance by Perrine). Still, the sleaziness isn't consistent enough or textured enough to seem more than affectation, which makes it obvious and offensive. Harris makes a valiant effort at a film noir but this work stars a hero in the kind of world where only anti-heroes play.