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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Dark Streets

The main pitfall of modern noirs is that filmmakers get so caught up in the chiaroscuro lighting schemes and florid twists of dialogue and voiceover that they forget noir was about expressing more than just attitude and style. Rachel Samuels' thin, affected jazz-age noir Dark Streets is worse than most, grafting an indifferent series of twists and double-crosses onto a blues-nightclub backdrop that overwhelms the foreground. Featuring songs by Etta James, Aaron Neville, Chaka Khan, and Natalie Cole, and an original score with an assist by B.B. King, the film so lavishly fetishizes the period's glittering costumes and leggy chanteuses that it can barely work up the interest to tend to its junior-league Chinatown plotting. The imbalance proves distracting on both ends: Working from a screenplay by Wallace King (based on a play by Glenn Stewart), Samuels treats the overwritten dialogue as another layer of set-dressing, while leaning on blurry telephoto camera effects that make the club look like a Bush video.

Sporting a pencil moustache like a middle-schooler highlighting his peach-fuzz, Gabriel Mann throws himself into a blues operation called The Tower. Unfortunately, his recently deceased father, the wealthy industrialist who ran the local power company, left him out of his will, and Mann ends up deep in hock to some very unsavory characters. As he pokes around and discovers the dark secrets behind his dad's business dealings, Mann also has to mediate a romantic and professional crisis: His headliner and sometime girlfriend (Bijou Phillips) feels threatened by a new singer (Izabella Miko) brought in by a shady cop (Elias Koteas) who protects the club. A series of blackouts recalls the intrigue over the water supply in Chinatown, but the crucial difference is that the earlier film evokes a corruption endemic to a major city, while Dark Streets turns out the lights in Phonytown. Samuels and company seem impatient to get back to the music and dancing, but they aren't nearly impatient enough.

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