This is an ugly, mean-spirited movie.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Bob Rafelson's "Blood and Wine" is a worthy competitor to Martin Scorsese's 1992 "Cape Fear" in the violence sweepstakes for this decade. In gleeful celebration of bloody cruelty, both directors aim for our sickest impulses by filming the detailed battery of human beings by one means or another.

You can watch a shark dragged from the ocean by a pick-up truck, a slow suffocation by poolside, a do-it-yourself sew up of a slashed face, and a blood-soaked car crash in which the thief explores the dying victim's bra and pants for the necklace he covets. Deserving a sentence of its own is the sight of a fishing boat thrown into full-power reverse to crush a man against a dock, not once, but twice.

Maneuvering through this bloodbath is as unhappy a group of people as you'll ever wish you hadn't met. Alex (Jack Nicholson) and his wife, Suzanne (Judy Davis), Suzanne's son, Jason (Stephen Dorff), Alex and Jason's girlfriend, Gabrielle (Jennifer Lopez), and Alex's awful buddy, Victor (Michael Caine.) Are you with me?

In a pivotal role as a bi-generational lover, Jennifer Lopez exhibits none of the appeal that might explain why her character is supposed to be so important in a landscape of violence. Her passivity eliminates the possibility of an interesting plot.

At the outset, the prospect of watching Nicholson, the wine seller, and Caine, the safecracker, is a delightful one. It's just right: they steal a diamond necklace as assurance of the perfect life. Throw in an alcoholic wife with redeeming features and a son who would be O.K. with a little parental guidance; then add a terrific sense of the aimless decadence and odd charm of waterfront life in Key Largo and Miami. We get the feel of the place and wonder with pleasure where the story will take us. But Rafelson chooses carnage, the story be damned.

Given unappealing characters, is it enough to enjoy the easy teamwork of the two grand old pros, Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine? Not this time. Both of these fine actors come perilously close to the grotesque, and both of them are still far too good to succumb to the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford self-parody that is often the final refuge of aging stars.

Michael Caine, sporting a Sam Donaldson-style greasy black hairdo, is a cigarette consumptive given to coughing fits that are usually triggered by his bestial violence. Befitting his age, Caine is stiff and bent from the exertion of beating one kid's head against a wall. Funny? I don't think so.

As a fishing boat carries a survivor off into the distance, we realize we have been watching not good lives gone bad, but bad lives gone worse. It is the measure of the director that once he chooses the language of brutality, he seems to relish the prolonged graphic horror that obliterates his story. This is an ugly, mean-spirited movie.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 490
Studio : Fox Searchlight
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h41m

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