Judge Brett Cullum is going to chanteuse your ass!
Music. Passion. Betrayal. Welcome to the Blues.
What if somebody made a noir version of Moulin Rouge with obscure blues numbers instead of well known pop tunes? Well, here is your answer. Dark Streets is a musical fantasy where a bunch of white people live in a fictionalized version of 1930s New Orleans, singing and dancing their hearts out nightly. If that sounds appealing then you've come to the right joint. Dark Streets may not lead you anywhere, but it sure does look good while doing its thing.
Facts of the Case
Chaz Davenport (Gabriel Mann, The Bourne Supremacy) has just opened up a blues club on a wing and a prayer. His wealthy father passed away recently and left him nothing. He has borrowed from loan sharks and anybody he can to get his place up and running. A mysterious cop (Elias Koteas, The Haunting in Connecticut) shows up looking to be paid off, and to convince him to hire a sultry blonde singer (Izabella Miko, Coyote Ugly). This makes his resident brunette singer (Bijou Phillips, Hostel: Part II) none too happy. Chaz seems to not notice the bitter rivalry between the two songbirds, because he is trying to figure out if his father was murdered. This all leads him down a dangerous path that could cost him a lot more than just the shirt off his back; it could mean the end of his sad life. It's all a great reason to sing the blues.
Dark Streets is a lot of gorgeous hokum and tremendous glitz with very little depth. The film is all style and musical numbers more than anything else. There is a strange too-theatrical quality to everything, and that is easily explained when you consider the screenplay by Wallace King was based on Glenn M. Stewart's play "City Club." This was all meant to be a stage musical, and perhaps the material could work better with that iteration which was more musical revue than anything plot driven. As a movie it works only as an exercise in style, and there's a lack of narrative drive or clarity for any of the characters. There is a point A and a point B, and getting there means just posing while getting ready for the next musical montage. The actors do fine jobs with what little they are given, and surprisingly Bijou Phillips makes for a convincing flapper chanteuse.
The problem here is authenticity and a lack of soul. If you're going to conjure up the Blues and New Orleans then something should be heartfelt. The soundtrack features Etta James, Aaron Neville, and Natalie Cole. These singers know how to wring out a song authentically, but they are heard and not seen. Instead we get pretty people in pretty clothes singing pretty songs, and they do this in between spitting out noir clichés and trite dialogue. The film feels more like concept than execution, and all the elements are well designed but with no substance to support them.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If there is one thing to be said for the film it looks stunning.
The musical numbers work well, and are inventively staged. The singing and the dancing are top notch, and you get to marry that with the lush production and costume design. Dark Streets functions as a sumptuous feast for the eyes, even when it falters with storytelling and characters. I have to say if you're coming for a "spectacular spectacular" musical kitsch fever dream it does deliver that straight up.
The Sony DVD presentation is quite well done. Rock solid black levels are imperative for this type of murky film, and mostly they are spot on. Everything looks fine with good detail and nice color balance. The five channel sound mix works well for the musical numbers and atmospherics. Extras include a commentary with director Rachel Samuels (The Suicide Club) joined by Gabriel Mann and Toledo (a bass voiced singer making his acting debut). It's a nice conversation about the production, locations, and inspirations behind it. Also included are some deleted and alternate sequences which are worth a look for a couple of different takes and character beats.
Dark Streets is the blues answer to Moulin Rouge, all dark angst and seedy glamour. It doesn't have a compelling story to convey, but it seems not to mind as it parades out one glorious musical sequence after another. The production is a handsome song and dance tone poem about a fictional club in a fantasy city. The film has a sophisticated visual palette, but little else to offer.
Guilty of being more visually interesting than anything else, Dark
Streets is free to mime the blues.
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