STUDIO: Artisan
MSRP: $14.98
RUNNING TIME: 105 min.
• chapter search. make it chapter 11.

The Pitch

“It’s Badlands in Britain!”

The Humans

Kiefer Sutherland (Flashback), Emily Lloyd (Cookie), Patsy Kensit (Lethal Weapon 2)

The Nutshell

In WWII London, US Army deserter Karl Hulten, 22, and would-be stripper Betty Jones, 17, attract each other with made-up identities drawn from Hollywood films… and then embark on an amateur crime spree that quickly escalates to murder.

Emily was transfixed by the Leave It to Beaver marathon.

The Lowdown

It’s very easy to forget, even while watching, that Chicago Joe and the Showgirl (1990) is closely based on a real-life case. The film even opens with an unusually specific disclaimer: “This is a true story; none of the names have been changed; none of the events have been altered.” Why, then, is what follows so unbelievable? One problem is structure. Unless the viewer has prior knowledge of the historical case the early scenes have no rhyme or reason, no internal logic. It comes across as a pastiche, with the actors– not the characters– posing unconvincingly as gangster stereotypes.

"Man, that limey’s taillights are really bright. And he’s driving backwards."

Then there’s the visual strategy: ‘40s London is represented through matte paintings, miniatures, rear-projection, and forced-perspective sets. Is this a stylized world seen through the eyes of movie-crazy sociopaths… or merely period production on a low budget? Director Bernard Rose has exhibited a strong vision on other projects: his previous film was the little-seen Paperhouse (1988) and he followed with the underrated Candyman (1992), but here his efforts come across as wannabe Dennis Potter. The less said about the ‘Hollywood-style’ fantasy point-of-view sequences, the better.

The Big Cheap.

Sutherland and Lloyd do what they can. The later scenes give them the best material to work with, and Lloyd in particular really comes alive once the blood starts to flow. A sequence midway through, in which ‘Georgina’ goads ‘Rick’ into bludgeoning a friendly hitchhiker, is the one perfectly judged point in the film.

The musical score is worth a brief mention. Fans of the animated Batman series will recognize the signature tones of the late Shirley Walker, mixed in among Hans Zimmer’s more conventional big-band arrangements. I can’t comment on Mike Southon’s cinematography, for reasons to be explained below.

"You’re gonna have to tap me harder than that, big guy."

The Package

I suspect we wouldn’t be getting this release if Mr. Sutherland hadn’t recently hit it big on TV. The transfer is among the worst I’ve ever seen on DVD—it looks scarcely better than the VHS version, and may have been made from the same master. The image is grainy, murky, panned-and-scanned, and vertically distorted. Since so much of the film depends on the visuals creating a subjective reality for its deluded characters, this is unforgivable.

5 out of 10