A poetic, rambunctious film that shows no matter how much we see, we never see, and no matter how much things change, the more they stay the same
Breakthrough director Rachel Samuels (“Suicide Club”) teams up with a Broadway A-list choreographer (Keith Young---“Rent”) and composer / music director George Acogny (“Blood Diamond,” “Rabbit Proof Fence,” “The Bone Collector”) to produce a very sweet modern-day musical film noir. The film dances around the mystery thriller genre, eventually poking fun at anybody who thinks there is a why or a wherefore to this story. The plot is as vague as the fuzzy center-focus lensing by cinematographer Sharone Meir.
Wallace King’s screenplay was based on the play by Glenn M. Stewart who was an executive producer of Daniel Myrick’s military fantasy of the para-normal, “The Objective,” released earlier this year. Like that film, “Dark Streets” combines a lack of visual resolution with cyber-punk precision and clarity. The edges of the scenes are often blurred, as one might see in films of the 20s/30s era, but periodic power black-outs happen grid-by-grid as they do in the new millennium. The scenes and costumes are Harlem / New Orleans 1930s but the mysterious lead singer Prince sings into a wireless microphone. The showgirls dance to Busby Berkeley choreography but snort cocaine constantly. As the film proceeds and the girls are shown close-up, their beauty fades in layers as boss Chaz Davenport feels the heat closing in.
Played by Gabriel Mann (The “Bourne” franchise) Chaz runs a hot nightclub and is much in demand. But his father, the head of the local power company, suffers a sudden death and Chaz is up to his eyebrows in lowbrows. Coming to his aid first is the Lieutenant (Elias Koteas—Vaughan in Cronenberg’s “Crash,” Genie Award winner for “Ararat”). Second is the smashingly beautiful Madelaine (Izabella Miko) who shows a little leg and then informs the mesmerized Chaz that she can sing, too. A one-two sucker punch that leaves Chaz on the ropes.
Meanwhile the black-outs are getting more and more frequent, strangling Chaz’ Tower Club like a cheap phone cord around the neck of a wannabe starlet. The Lieutenant has bought Chaz some time and Madelaine has taken over for Chaz’ true love, Crystal (Bijou Phillips) but both the Lieutenant and Madelaine are starting to get a lot more demanding. Crystal is back into the drugs again, after being clean for what seems like an eternity.
The dancing and the music carry on with passion and the soundtrack is never far away from the thumps and whines and the drawn out cry of that bluesy sax. The dancing is outrageous, showing everything this side of the X rating. As the black-outs happen more and more, sex is open and wanton, Chaz is drinking heavily, Crystal is so drugged she can barely twitch and Chaz’ uncle is getting what he wanted from Chaz’ father all along.
The theatre shakes with that loud “Thwam!!” Then “Thwam,” Thwam, “Thwam” as the lights pop out square by square, grid by grid, finally overtaking the Tower leaving everybody in the dark, stumbling drunk and drugged, overcome by the night, past the dead men and girls in the alley strewn with the broken machines, the dark lamps and the torn posters and fashions of the evening’s trends, already out of date. “No admittance, the power plant is closed for maintenance. Safety regulations. We don’t want you getting’ electrocuted or nothin’.”
One of the best sound tracks and some of the best choreography this year propel this film like a rocket sled. The photography is old fashioned, center focus, as is the setting of the 20s/30s but the power grids are cyber-punk. Some of the lip synching is perfectly obvious, a metaphor for the layers of deception. When the final credits reveal the dedication to the New Orleans musicians put out of work by Katrina it all comes into focus. Like the collapsing levees it is clear and unclear, accidental and planned, at the same time.
Release: December 12, 2008
MPAA: Rated R for some sexual content, drug use and brief violent images
Running Time: 83 minutes