Dark Streets may only be a quasi-noir and quasi-musical, but that doesn’t stop it from being a wholesale slog. A tribute to 1930s music and style, Rachel Stevens’s film (adapted by Wallace King from Glenn M. Stewart’s play) is a thing of visual and narrative smudginess, its belligerently expressionistic, lush cinematography typified by awful fuzziness around the frame’s edges, and its story an undercooked murder-mystery composed of half-scenes and conversational fragments. Whether it’s the faux-lyrical narration delivered by raspy-voiced, mohawked performer Prince (Toledo), the wan expressions of boozy nightclub owner protagonist Chaz Davenport (Gabriel Mann), or the portentous and/or saucy bon mots falling out of everyone else’s inane mouths, Stevens’s saga is a risible muddle devoid of depth, originality and soul. This last quality is the one most aggressively sought, mainly via a bevy of blues tunes that attempts to augment the plot proper with a measure of forlorn, doomed romanticism. However, despite original compositions performed by Etta James, Natalie Cole, Dr. John and Chaka Khan (among others), Dark Streets never even flirts with a memorable tune or an accompanying bit of scintillating choreography, instead relying on sandpaper-subtle visual contrasts (warm lighting, spooky shadows) and pretentious blather—most from Prince, who’s fond of proclamations like “The meek don’t inherit the earth. They just end up in it”—to convey a stock mood of despair, longing and impending tragedy. Further muddying the waters is dreamlike logic in which people magically appear and disappear at random, and in which a character like Elias Koteas’s pale police lieutenant can walk around in a leather-straps-and-buckles body harness and arm sheaths, looking like some lost reject from Dark City, and not provoke a single double-take. It’s a fate this unattractive, empty film also merits.
- Rachel Samuels
- Wallace King
- Gabriel Mann, Bijou Phillips, Izabella miko, Elias Koteas, Michael Fairman, Toledo
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