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Gris: Three Failed Neo-Noirs

Perhaps no genre has a more distinct and inspiring style than the grim, expressionistic Noir. While the genre had its heyday in the 30's and 40's, Noir has never really gone away. Since the late 1960's there have been countless attempts to duplicate, pay homage to, or outright revive the genre. Some of these are great films, some are merely fun. But for every Chinatown there are a dozen other movies that missed the mark. Romeo is Bleeding The early 90's saw films becoming ever more entrenched in postmodern irony. While the likes of Quentin Tarantino were churning out the new grit with cool humor, a few projects tried to turn the era into something darker and more oppressive. That's where terminally uncool movies like Peter Medak's Romeo is Bleeding come in. While Romeo is little more than a hackneyed script backed by an indifferent directorial style, it could just as easily be seen as star Gary Oldman's career in microcosm. It has the potential to be great and even has some glimmers of transcendence, but ultimately it goes in the wrong direction more times than not. The plot finds Jack (Oldman), a corrupt cop with weasel written all over him, getting in over his head and then some when his dirty dealings converge with his tangled love life. Where many Noirs lend a literary fatalism to voiceover narration, Jack's crummy Brooklyn English makes the whole exercise more grating than helpful. As the plot twists and our protagonist gets more and more beat-up, the flat supporting characters and mustache-twirling evils of the story grow tired. Lucky Number Slevin While I've been known to be something of an apologist for Paul McGuigan's 2006 flop, I'll admit that it fails to capture even a tenth of the knock-around hopelessness it strives to. Josh Hartnett plays Slevin, a genial but mysterious out-of-towner who gets caught up in an epic mob war. Bruce Willis plays a hitman of the coldest order who seems to step in the same mess as Slevin. Other big-name stars pop in and out of the story, including Morgan Freeman and love interest Lucy Liu. The closest Lucky Number Slevin ever comes to achieving a place in the venerable genre is through its clowning around with some common Noir themes. Slevin gets beat up relentlessly, there's just enough gun-play to keep the weapons menacing instead of action movie toys, and the whole thing has a sense of inevitability. The only problem is that the thing that's inevitable is a neat, fairly happy ending. At best, Lucky Number Slevin is a Comedy Noir, so not really Noir at all. Love, Honour and Obey The Noir genre was born in America from the twisted pulp novels of the early 20th century. It was only inevitable that some cultural exchange would occur. In 2001, Dominic Anciano and Ray Burdis co-wrote and co-directed a British crime drama called Love, Honour and Obey. It stars Jude Law and Johnny Lee Miller as two up-and-comers in a crime family who take some big risks to impress the bosses and knock out the competition. The dirty, dreary London setting practically begs to be given a Noir edge and it's heartbreaking as well as little fun to see Lee Miller's hapless protagonist overextend himself. But, like so many failed Noirs, Love backs away before it gets to the relentless darkness that characterizes the genre. It's never as hopeless and bleak as it should be, but neither is it as stylish and engaging as Guy Ritchie's caper flicks. It's understandable that so many filmmakers have a love affair with the Noir genre. There's a lot to love about it. Those few who manage to do it right are great talents, but that means we also have to put up with their less-than-stellar counterparts.