This lushly photographed, contemporary film noir resounds with the plot mechanisms and tortured ambiance of mature classics like TOUCH OF EVIL and LADY FROM SHANGHAI. But without depth or conviction, DEADFALL is a young man's approximation of Jim Thompson--a sort of grade school send-up of
Turning cons with his father/partner Mike Donan (James Coburn), Joe Donan (Michael Biehn) is a good soul warped by his unconventional upbringing. When a drugs-for-money scam goes sour, Mike is killed. Wracked by guilt, Joe heeds his father's last wish before he blows town. Unlocking his father's
bus station locker, Joe learns that his father had a twin brother, Uncle Lou (Coburn), who may have appropriated loot belonging to Mike. Acting circumspectly, Joe travels to Santa Monica, a crime vortex in which he hopes to prove himself to Uncle Lou, the mystery man, and to Lou's coked-up
aide-de-camp, Eddie (Nicolas Cage). Demonstrating prowess with minor cons and foolishly falling for Eddie's girl Diane (Sarah Trigger), Joe is ordered to persuade a fearsome criminal to cough up money he owes Uncle Lou. Slyly paying the debt out of his own pocket, Joe moves closer to the center of
Paranoid about Joe, the new golden boy, replacing him, drugged-up Eddie kills an assassin sent by Joe's former crime buddies and then handcuffs and terrorizes his boss. After rescuing him by deep-frying Eddie, Joe gains his Uncle's confidence and joins in his latest swindle. Drawing in a diamond
expert named Dr. Lyme (Angus Scrimm), Joe sets up a grift that dangerously resembles the scam that killed his father. During this diamonds-for-cash exchange, the body count mounts before Joe realizes that Uncle Lou is actually his father. Alive and well, Mike orchestrated the sting around Joe's
legitimate grief, on which he had counted.
Despite some eye-catching cinematography, DEADFALL is unpersuasive and shallow. The experienced Biehn comes across like a callow newcomer; his boyish narration trivializes the entire tradition of world-weary crime drama. Equally unimpressive is Sarah Trigger, whose two-faced woman emerges as a
cellophane Lolita, a femme fatale only a fool could trust. In film noir, the heroine can be a fallen angel, but she must keep the hero and the audience guessing; Trigger is too obviously a spider, and Biehn the hapless fly. Where is the emotional hook if we are frustrated by the protagonist's
gullibility? Once Biehn's character opens the bus locker and examines the ripped-up family photo, we know that his father is still alive; this all-too predictable surprise is indicative of DEADFALL's Film Noir 101 mentality.
Most of the cameo performances are unremarkable. Of the main cast, Angus Scrimm does a creepy homage to film noir favorite, the late George MacReady, and steals the show. Most often, DEADFALL settles for juvenile excess, most damagingly in the out-of-control posturing of Cage, who wrecks
whatever legitimacy this thriller might have achieved. (Extensive violence, extensive profanity, nudity, substance abuse, sexual situations.)
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