The Austin Chronicle

Golden Gate

Rated R, 90 min. Directed by John Madden. Starring Matt Dillon, Joan Chen, Bruno Kirby, Teri Polo, Tzi Ma, Stan Egi, Jack Shearer.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 28, 1994

Like Jack Nicholson's private dick before him, Matt Dillon should have known better than to go poking around in Chinatown. Golden Gate is a messy but well-meaning period piece about fresh-out-of-law-school FBI guy, Kevin Walker (Dillon), who joins the Bureau in 1952. Rabidly chasing the Commie menace, Kevin and his partner Ron Pirelli (Kirby) are assigned to Chinatown, where they trump up some charges that cause a man to go to jail. Consequently, these actions destroy the man's family and break his will so that he is unable to function upon his release. Of course, our hero is destined to fall in love with the man's daughter Marilyn (Chen). He hides his true identity from her, but she discovers the truth eventually and the deceit does not further endear her to Kevin. By now, the movie is deep into the Sixties and Marilyn is a university student involved in the rebellions of her time. Meanwhile, Kevin has been plagued all his life by a question posed to him by an even older girlfriend. She wondered if he believed in law or justice -- as though there were always clear-cut choices. Kevin's guilt regarding the mistakes of his past causes him to mete out his own form of self-justice by movie's end. As a love story, you've seen variations on this plot hundreds of times before and usually done more effectively. Screenwriter David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) never arrives at a consistent tone for his story. At times, it almost feels like a shadow play that threatens to turn comic. Especially during the early Fifties settings, there's a certain quality that makes it feel almost like a parody of the period it is portraying. Director Madden (Ethan Frome) is no big help on this score as characters trudge along toward their inevitable destinies with no sizable input or control visible from his end. Golden Gate means to tell a sensitive little period story about an interracial love story but it drowns itself in good intentions. Nicholson was right about staying out of Chinatown.

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