The Austin Chronicle

Ninth Life

Directed by Ken Harrison. Starring Matthew Posey, Robert Prentiss, Barri Murphy, Kim Pendleton, Bill Bolender, Linda Gehringer.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 31, 1991

Set in Dallas' boho arts community of Deep Ellum, Ninth Life is a stylish and contemporary murder mystery. Sam (Posey) is a painter who returns to Dallas for a show of his recent paintings. While there he picks the scabs off some old wounds: namely the fizzled relationship with his old girlfriend Molly (Pendleton) who has subsequently become the hot singer/celeb on the Deep Ellum music scene and the fractured friendship with his former artist buddy George (Prentiss) who also has a thing for Molly. Faster than you can say film noir, events start leapfrogging though a tangled chain of break-ins, murdered corpses, soured drug deals, phantom porn tapes, blackmail, hermetic nightclubs, fatuous art consumers, cynical cops and loaded guns. It all sorts itself out, barely, before the thing is through. Films like The Maltese Falcon and Chinatown are clearly Ninth Life's narrative models though Ninth Life only approximates the deft circuitry of these classics. The main thing Ninth Life has going for it is its flavor. Shot in Dallas with a local cast and crew, the movie is drenched in the Deep Ellum arts scene, blending elements both historic and contemporary, aural and visual, human and architectural. This is director Harrison's third feature film though the first to be made from his own script. The first two, On Valentine's Day and 1918) were both scripted by Horton Foote and strongly rooted in a bygone Texas. Ninth Life abandons that historic look back in favor of an urban film noir shot in color approach that underscores the now-ness of its scene. Featured in the film are the paintings of Texas artist Frank X. Tolbert II whose large, quirky, ominous canvases set the tone for the story. The club scene is also captured through the movie's ever-present music track which was supervised by Texas rocker Johnny Reno. Reno also performs in the film with his band in addition to appearances by Steve James, Anson Funderbergh and the Rockets and Cafe Noir as well as soundtrack contributions from Fever in the Funkhouse, Big Boss Groove and Cricket Taylor. Pendleton, the husky-voiced former lead singer for Princess Tex, here makes a memorable screen debut. Ninth Life is not without problems: the acting is uneven, the script veers between ornate plot convolutions and simplified character affirmations and dialogue. But still, the movie lives up to its title and like the proverbial cat lands stylishly on its feet after free-falling across the Dallas skyline.

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