Lionsgate // 1995 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // April 6th, 2010
Some fantasies go too far.
David Caruso was a Hot Property. He'd come out of nowhere and offered an electrifying performance on the new, edgy hit series NYPD Blue. Rumors that his incendiary portrayal mirrored his real-life temperament were borne out when he quit the show after its first year and word spread about his difficult on-set behavior. Still, Caruso was a Hot Property and set out to become a Movie Star.
Linda Fiorentino was a Hot Property. She'd made a little film that had actually premiered on cable, The Last Seduction; and when it got a theatrical run, critics were bowled over by her sexy, no-holds-barred performance. She won the prestigious New York Film Critics award as Best Actress as well as the Independent Spirit award. Word was that she was not the easiest person to work with, but that didn't matter. Fiorentino was a Hot Property and on her way to becoming a bona fide Movie Star.
Joe Eszterhas was a Hot Property. He'd written the screenplay for one of the most iconic films of the '90s, Basic Instinct, which had made Sharon Stone a household name and a dirty punchline. He and Stone followed up with Sliver, which was not as successful but made lots of money internationally. No one ever accused Eszterhas of being a great writer, but his comfortably kinky and pulpy scripts made him one to watch -- unquestionably a Hot Property.
William Friedkin was a Legend. One of the "Young Turk" directors of the '70s, he'd made two of the most successful and memorable films of that decade: The French Connection and The Exorcist, the former winning him an Academy Award at the relatively young age of 36. Although his work was spotty after that, the long-standing affection for those films secured his place as a Legend.
The three Hot Properties and the Legend teamed up for 1995's Jade. With a pair of slightly mature but newly minted sex symbols acting a script from the guy who made panties passé and sex killers cool, and directed by the guy who made Linda Blair's head spin, how could the result be anything but a sexy, scintillating trip?
Let us count the ways...
In San Francisco, an elderly, well-connected art dealer and socialite -- we know he's well connected by the photos scattered around showing him with Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher -- is killed in a suitably spectacular way: crucified naked and hacked up with an antique ax, sort of a Hatchet of Destiny. "This is rage," one cop astutely observes.
Heading up the investigation is Assistant District Attorney David Corelli (David Caruso, Kiss of Death). As clues pile up, Corelli learns that the dead man had an unsavory sexual appetite and a side line providing women for important men -- including the Governor of California (Richard Crenna, Rambo: First Blood Part II), who turns up in some photos in flagrante with a young hooker. After confronting the ruthless and powerful politician, Corelli tracks the girl down (not too hard, since he's told where she works about five times), and after running from him through the streets of Chinatown, she admits she was part of a sex ring specializing in providing young girls to powerful men, and that the most popular girl was the beautiful and piggish...Jade. (Don't worry if you miss the name, since New Age-y music pipes up everytime the J-word is uttered.)
As Corelli scavenger hunts his way through more clues, he begins to suspect that Jade might actually be Katrina Garvin (Linda Fiorentino, Men in Black). She's an old flame who is now a respected psychologist and author, and the wife of his best friend, high-priced lawyer Matt Garvin (Chazz Palminteri, Bullets Over Broadway). The fact that her fingerprints are on the murder weapon and that she openly and obviously lies during police interviews seem to be dead giveaways.
Could the beautiful, wealthy, well-married, and famous-in-her-own-right Katrina actually be moonlighting as Jade, a raunchy consort to the homely but powerful? Is this mid-30s, best-selling author, who takes her own, private plane to give speeches at conferences and has probably appeared on television, picking up a little side cash turning tricks next to teen-age runaways?
Well, remember, this is the world of Joe Ezsterhas and William Friedkin, so it's best not to ask such questions.
Jade isn't like watching a train wreck so much as it's like watching an old caboose rust into dust. It's s a mind-numbing exercise in how not to make an erotic thriller. Whatever chances it had to be a sexy, guilty pleasure are squandered with dull performances, a convoluted script, and pedestrian direction.
Word is that Friedkin massively reworked Ezsterhas' script, so much so that the writer tried to get his name removed from the credits. The film starts out very Basic Instinct-like, with the grisly murder of a wealthy man, although this time, we don't see the killing. Unlike BI, however, we spend little time cat-and-mousing with the cop (in that film, Michael Douglas) and the lead suspect (Sharon Stone).
Instead, we follow Caruso's confusing and drawn-out investigation. Never one to go from Point A to Point B, ADA Corelli consistently takes the scenic route to follow-up clues. At one point, to check up on a mysterious silver box he finds at the murder scene, he gets an Asian friend to take him to see a man involved in an underground mah jong game in Chinatown (there are lots of obnoxiously colorful scenes in Chinatown; apparently, in San Francisco, Chinese people have nothing better to do than play mah jong and have parades). The man offers a long and useless explanation about the box ("beautiful lady give to rich man, I don't know her"), and Corelli asks him what the mysterious symbol is on the box. "Jade" he replies through an interpreter, while the soundtrack goes off like Corelli just discovered uranium.
I never saw Caruso on NYPD Blue, but from everything I've read, he created an intense and compelling characterization. All that seems lost on the big screen. He has little presence here, a huge liability since he's in about 85 percent of the scenes, plus his thin physique and odd shock of red hair don't exactly cry out "leading man." Corelli is supposed to be obsessed with the case because it involves his long-ago lover and lingering crush, but Caruso's conveys obsession by drawing his eyebrows close and speaking somberly. He has zero chemistry with Fiorentino, but that's OK, as they only appear in a couple of scenes together.
After her stunning turn in The Last Seduction, you'd think Fiorentino's follow-up would capitalize on her sex appeal, smoldering intensity, and willingness to perform risqué scenes. Jade completely squanders the actress and her talents. She has so little screentime, the part barely amounts to a cameo, and most of her scenes involve her being politely interrogated by Caruso and some cops. Unlike Stone's interrogation in Basic Instinct, Fiorentino keeps her legs together and her knickers straight the whole time. Her sex scenes -- what you'd expect might have been a selling point -- consist of a couple of fully clad and exceedingly dull couplings with Palminteri and a grainy bit of video footage. She does strip down to call her husband while she's on a business trip (visible from behind only), though he's too busy receiving oral sex from a colleague (also fully dressed) to take the call. It's just that kind of a movie.
Friedkin directs Jade like it's his first film. Every character except Corelli seems to be screaming out, "I'm guilty!" and his vision of high-level corruption is like a college sophomore's anti-establishment fantasy. Ridiculousness seeps off the screen like pus from a lanced boil. At one point, Fiorentino's character -- who knows she's in hot water and has just fought with her husband -- returns home at night to her darkened house. Now, if you came home to a darkened mansion, wouldn't your first order of business be to turn on a light? Not Linda. She gropes around the empty house until she finds (naturally) a scene of horror, which leads to an unexciting climax in which you can barely see who's doing what to whom. Denouement-wise, we end up with a whole bunch of resolutions/revelations, some of them easily foreseen, none satisfying, and with the one about Fiorentino's character being the most ludicrous.
The trademarked Friedkin car chase is here, but it's got to be one of the dullest such sequences ever filmed. It begins with a ridiculous witness hit -- seriously, if you wanted to eliminate someone, would you do so by running them down in the middle of the day on a crowded street where most cars are going about 10 miles an hour, and then hope traffic lets up enough for you to turn around and hit them again? Isn't that just a tad inefficient? Then, in an apparent and misguided homage to Bullitt, Corelli gets in his ride and chases the death car full-throttle through the San Francisco hills -- which are surprisingly traffic free for long stretches until a convenient jam blocks the hero. The whole mess ends up in crawl through one of those arbitrary parades (complete with papier maché dragon!) that those lovable Chinese characters are so fond of throwing, and while the irate paraders smash the windows on Corelli's car, the killer car (tinted windows, no plates, nothing a traffic cop would notice) is able to crawl away. Even a vaguely nifty turn at the end of the scene is bungled.
While Ezsterhas might have disowned the finished script, his heavy hand is evident, from the safely silly sordidness to the appalling bits of dialogue.
At the crime scene, Carelli comes upon some small, silver boxes with women's names on them and bits of hair inside. When asked by a detective what they are, Carelli cracks, "Well, either he collected pubic hair or he was auditioning for a Clairol ad."
Later, the police discover that the dead guy had a beach house that was used for sex parties, complete with erotic toys and hidden cameras. Carelli reviews the contents of a small refrigerator and notes, "Cristal, Beluga, Wolfgang Puck. It's a f**khouse," thus setting the product-placement business back about 300 years.
This Blu-ray offers a decent but unexceptional 1.78:1 1080p image. Colors are strong, but the picture's soft and occasionally grainy. There's little in the way of depth or really good definition. I don't know that this image is appreciably better than what you'd expect to find on a standard DVD. The DTS-HD audio, on the other hand, is excellent. It's an immersive track that perfectly balances dialogue, music, and ambient sound.
Jade is not a movie that exactly cries out for Blu-ray treatment, and Lionsgate has added nothing in the way of extras; this isn't even an "Unrated" version or the "Director's Cut." Then I looked it up on Amazon.com and discovered that the DVD is out of print and that this Blu-ray retails for under $20 ($14.99 at Amazon), meaning that it's as inexpensive as the DVD version would be.
Of course, this makes me go back to my longstanding complaint regarding Lionsgate -- well, one of them, anyway. They have one of the best "bad movie" catalogues in the business. Why not capitalize on it? This bare bones Blu won't be setting many hearts a-flutter, but a fully loaded Director's Cut (which was available on VHS but not DVD, for crying out loud) might pique some interest. It would be great to have a special feature on behind-the-scenes battles between Ezsterhas and Friedkin, and since Friedkin has provided entertaining and honest commentaries for films like Cruising and Bug, I'm sure he would have availed himself to speak about the Jade experience (unless he's legally prohibited from doing so).
Erotic in the way that watching monkeys pick bugs off each other is erotic, Jade is a silly waste of time. Tedious and tawdry, this is a low-point for all involved.
Guilty, but not pleasurable.
Review content copyright © 2010 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated R