On the evidence of STORYVILLE, director and coscreenwriter Mark Frost seems to have learned all the wrong lessons from David Lynch, his partner on TV's "Twin Peaks." Frost's debut feature is a dippy, slow-moving exercise in Southern Fried tedium.
The scion of a powerful Louisiana political family, Cray Fowler (James Spader) is running his first election campaign. About to be divorced from his wife after she was caught in some compromising positions by a detective's still camera, Fowler is tempted by the advances of an exotic waitress, Lee
Tran (Charlotte Lewis), at a fundraiser. At a later assignation in the French Quarter of New Orleans, he wrestles with her aikido-style before they slip into the hot tub, as a strategically placed video camera records everything. When Fowler wakes up, the waitress's father lies dead at the foot of
the bed. Lee, who is nowhere to be seen, is charged in the killing, despite the fact that Fowler's fingerprints are all over the murder weapon and that his antics have been recorded on video.
In an attempt to save Lee and prevent the public airing of his dirty laundry, Fowler, a lawyer by training, steps forward to defend her, pitting himself against yet another object of his desire, sexy District Attorney Natalie Tate (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer). Fowler wins the case rather too easily, by
producing a surprise witness in the middle of Natalie's cross-examination of Lee. But his real agenda is to get to those who set him up in the first place. These include all the usual suspects, ranging from his political opponent to family patriarch Clifford Fowler (Jason Robards), who hatched the
video scheme to keep Cray under his thumb. (Years earlier, it turns out, Clifford murdered Cray's father to prevent the airing of an earlier generation of family dirt involving bogus real-estate deeds.)
Getting through STORYVILLE's byzantine plot becomes a struggle to stay awake, as endless boring conversations and stifling set pieces are topped off by one of the dopiest courtroom climaxes in cinema history.
Frost tries to make everything moody and atmospheric but the results are strictly soporific; as a result, it's easier to isolate what's right about the film than to count the many ways in which it goes wrong. Ron Garcia's cinematography and Carter Burwell's score establish a convincing initial
mood of menace. From an acting viewpoint, the film's only genuine heat comes from Whalley-Kilmer (SHATTERED, CROSSING THE LINE). Shoe-horned into a succession of tight-fitting outfits, she contributes the jolt of lustful naughtiness that STORYVILLE otherwise lacks but is so desperately trying to
Otherwise, the actors seem hobbled by a flat, amateurish screenplay that is endlessly telling what it should be showing and relentlessly predictable in its unfolding. Seasoned veterans like Piper Laurie, Robards and Woody Strode put in listless one- or two-scene guest spots. Lewis--for some reason
made up to look like the mysterious Asian character played by Joan Chen in "Twin Peaks"--is less enigmatic than alarmingly thin. Spader, meanwhile, sleepwalks through his role, offering us what seems like the umpteenth version of his wounded yuppie character. To be fair, he may just be caught in
the general vortex of boredom that is STORYVILLE. (Violence, profanity, nudity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: On the evidence of STORYVILLE, director and coscreenwriter Mark Frost seems to have learned all the wrong lessons from David Lynch, his partner on TV's "Twin Peaks." Frost's debut feature is a dippy, slow-moving exercise in Southern Fried tedium. The scio… (more)