MGM // 1988 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Maurice Cobbs (Retired) // October 19th, 2004
Some passions can be deadly.
Private eye Eddie Mallard (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive) is a hard-luck case without two dimes to rub together -- but he's still got really hot blonde Debbie (Denise Stephenson, Spice World) throwing herself at him. How does that work? I'm frequently down to the pocket lint, and I've got lots of cheap suits, but it never seems to attract oversexed, superhot, and slightly slutty sexpots. Of course, I don't have Jones's craggy, ruggedly handsome face, so that might just have something to do with it. Anyway, Mallard's out of work, behind on his rent, and confused by a Rubik's Cube. It occurred to me that he'd probably be able to pay the rent if he quit sitting around his office playing with the Rubik's Cube, but that probably would somehow take away from the whole P.I. mystique. Then again, I should point out that Magnum P.I. never sat around playing with a Rubik's Cube, and he lived in Hawaii. And had a Ferrari. Coincidence? I think not.
At any rate, Mallard is desperate enough to humor Charlie Rand (Colin Bruce, Chariots of Fire), a wealthy schmuck who can't seem to get his wife, Rachel (Virginia Madsen, Candyman), to leave him alone. Charlie offers Mallard a cool grand to get her off his back -- which sounds easy enough, until you realize that she's been dead for ten years. Talk about your fatal attractions. Charlie is a nervous wreck; it seems that she's been haunting him for some time now, giving him the nervous jitters and forcing him to wear silly little bow ties. Mallard thinks that Charlie is a grade-A nutcase, but the wad of dough he tosses on Mallard's desk sure does talk sense. So the cash-strapped gumshoe agrees to follow Charlie around Manhattan and find out what the sultry specter wants. When Mallard finally encounters the dearly departed (and recently returned) Rachel, he finds himself falling in love with her. And why not? She's beautiful, cosmopolitan, and likes to lie on the floor naked -- plus she's dead, so there aren't any commitment issues. Also, since this is a cable TV movie, you know that lots of hot, steamy sex scenes are not far away. But it turns out that she hasn't come back just to sleep with two-bit private eyes -- diamonds really are a girl's best friend, and Rachel wants hers back.
It seems that Rachel wanted to be buried naked (we must assume that she also requested a closed casket) except for her collection of fabulously expensive jewels. Charlie agreed, but later had second thoughts, the kind of second thoughts that drive you to dig up your dead wife and plunder her grave. Bad idea -- that's how you wind up paying karmic alimony for the rest of eternity. But has Rachel really returned from the grave? Is Mallard being set up as the victim of an elaborate hoax? Or has the guilt of his actions driven Charlie 'round the bend?
Frustrated by the impenetrable plot of the movie, Mallard smashes his Rubik's Cube and leaps into action. Despite the fact that he lives so far below the poverty line that street bums throw quarters at him, Mallard figures that he's at least smart enough to outwit a corpse, and quite possibly even a guy who thinks tiny bowties are a snappy fashion statement. But sex with a ghost wears out the soul as well as the libido, and Mallard finds that he may be too far gone already to save himself. Caught up in a web of things he doesn't quite understand (and neither do we), Mallard spends much of his time being a jerk to Debbie and his reporter pal Tim (Kevin Jarre) and staring blankly into space. Debbie finally gets fed up and throws an egg cream into Mallard's face, but I think that she was aiming at the director. In any case, the egg cream wakes Mallard up enough to do some fancy footwork of his own and escape the dangerous clutches of his own passion. Through it all, Tommy Lee Jones spends too much time with his clothes off, Virginia Madsen spends too much time with her clothes on, and the audience is asked to answer the burning question, "Does anybody really give a damn about this?"
I'm not saying that Gotham is a bad movie...okay, you got me, I am saying that it's a bad movie. But that's not to say that it's a complete waste of your time -- bad though it is, there's a lot to like here. It's just a shame, because the premise is so good -- this really could have been a fantastic thriller if it had been better executed. Writer-director Lloyd Fonvielle has outstanding material to work with here: a noir myth about the consequences of a spirit literally coupling with a mortal. Look for a scene featuring a surprisingly soulful rendition of "Danny Boy" by a homeless musician, giving ironic impact to the lyrics:
But when you come, when all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be
Then if you bend and tell me that you love me
I'll sleep in peace until you come to me.
At its heart, Gotham is a stylish and atmospheric tale chock full of symbolism and with fantastic leading actors in Jones and Madsen. Where the movie begins to break down is in the clumsy direction and the screenplay; the dialogue runs the gamut from stale to absurd, and the film is dotted with plot holes large enough to drive a beer truck through. In fact, the rich symbolism is part of the problem, as the movie is so dense that only a select few will fully be able to appreciate it. Not a good thing; if you can't make your message understood, you're just babbling to yourself, like the smelly guy in the alley behind O'Reilley's Pub. Perhaps Fonvielle would have been better served by having Kevin Jarre behind the camera as well as in front; I'm sure that the writer of such memorable scripts as Tombstone and Glory could have straightened out this mess and given it a bit more punch. There's not much suspense here, and despite the fact that Gotham is a ghost story, the only real horror is seeing Tommy Lee Jones bare naked. I remember absolutely loving this movie when it came out (I was all of 16), but in retrospect, it probably had more to do with Virginia Madsen's, ah, assets than any inherent quality of the movie itself. Just to prove my point, I didn't even remember that Tommy Lee Jones was nude in the movie; some benevolent, automatic, and sorely missed teenage hormone must have blocked that from my memory. But I sure did remember Virginia Madsen. Virginia, if you're reading this, call me: I find older women deliciously attractive.
Yeah, it's true. We grow older, but we never grow up.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R