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Jade

Director: William Friedkin
Cast: David Caruso, Linda Fiorentino, Chazz Palminteri, Richard Crenna, Angie Everhart

(US DVD: 6 Apr 2010)

William Friedkin’s Jade was once a film around which there was much hype, artistic and commercial potential given the pedigree of all involved, and intriguing, eye-catching advertisements featuring a sultry Linda Fiorentino. All that momentum came to a stop once the film was actually released in the fall of 1995. Instead of making good on the seemingly can’t-miss combined efforts of Basic Instinct writer Joe Eszterhas, legendary Exorcist/French Connection director Friedkin, and NYPD Blue breakout star David Caruso, the film lost a lot of money, received terrible reviews, and stalled the career of Caruso, its top-billed star.


To diagnose everything that went wrong is to take on an extensive and frustrating task, as the film’s development was polluted by warring egos and bad creative decisions, the sources of which are difficult to verify given Hollywood’s tendency to blame “the other guy”. Yet to write off the film’s total misfire as unworthy of some attention and analysis would be a mistake, if only because there are lessons to be learned from such a botch.


First and foremost, an episodic plot does not translate into a thrilling film. Although Eszterhas and Friedkin apparently had very different opinions of how the story should unfold, what translated to the screen is so lifeless—its atmosphere of intrigue so faint—that it is difficult to imagine anyone expecting audiences to react within any interest whatsoever.


The plot, which is set in San Francisco, involves assistant district attorney David Corelli (Caruso), his friend and former lover Trina Gavin (Fiorentino), and her husband, attorney Matt Gavin (Chazz Palminteri). After a wealthy art collector is horrifically murdered with a hatchet, Corelli follows the leads of the case up the ladder of power to the Governor (Richard Crenna), an incriminating picture of whom is found amongst the dead man’s possessions. Corelli uncovers other philanderers, hookers, and various kinky accoutrements, but what draws him to the case most passionately is the possible involvement of Trina and Matt Gavin.


Although these events could figure into an absorbing mystery/thriller, it is as if Eszterhas and/or Friedkin arrange all of these combustible elements and then fail or forget to ignite them. There are a few impressive set pieces in the film, and these appear to be the only sequences in which Friedkin truly invested his creativity. Nothing in the film matches the director-rewritten opening scene, which begins in a foggy exterior and then moves into an ornately decorated mansion where we hear an off-screen argument escalate into a grisly murder. The moving camera, fantastic set decoration, and Horner’s bombastic score unite to assault our senses, all under the assured guidance of Friedkin’s directorial hand.


Yet the investigation of the thrillingly presented initial crime slows to an uninteresting crawl once Corelli (an occasionally intense but ultimately miscast Caruso) starts pursuing directions that delay the introduction of Trina as a femme fatale villain of the story. Perhaps Eszterhas and/or Friedkin were trying to resist blatantly copying the Basic Instinct formula, but there were clear reasons for that Paul Verhoeven-directed film’s success, to which the Jade team should have paid more attention.


Specifically, the fiery relationship between Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell and Michael Douglas’s detective Nick Curran gave that admittedly sleazy film much of its propulsion. Tramell was a violent force of nature and Curran was in too deep, so their pairing (especially given Stone’s star-making turn) was irresistible to viewers looking for B-picture escapism.


Corelli and Trina, by contrast, are kept apart for most of Jade‘s running time. There is little trace of their former relationship on screen, except for unnecessarily on-the-nose dialogue about the torch he still carries for her. Although Crenna is satisfyingly repulsive as the corrupt governor and Angie Everhart makes a strong impression as a hooker linked to the circle of powerful men in Corelli’s investigation, the film spends an inordinate amount of time on what should be secondary or tertiary plots and patently uninteresting red herrings.


The most absurd aspect of the episodic main plot involves doctor/author/intellectual Trina’s professional life and commitments, which take her out of the film for long periods of time. This would be fine if there seemed to be any purpose in doing so, or if anyone besides Fiorentino bothered to imbue the character with credibility. Trina Gavin is apparently so successful as a writer that she travels by private jet to conferences, where she gives lectures that consist of wooden expository remarks that exist only to introduce a psychological condition to the film’s audience. The only way this dialogue could more obviously and sloppily connect to the murder “mystery” is if Friedkin inserted on-screen exclamation points.


Script aside, the other fatal flaw of Jade is the misuse of Fiorentino’s star qualities. In 1995, Fiorentino should have been one of the most in-demand actresses in Hollywood, thanks to her jaw-dropping turn in John Dahl’s The Last Seduction. A revisionist reimagining of Double Indemnity featuring Fiorentino as Bridget Gregory, a take-no-prisoners woman on the lam, Dahl’s film had an unfortunate distribution deal that brought the film to television before the fervor over Fiorentino’s performance launched the film into cinemas. In Jade, Friedkin repeatedly teases the audience with glimpses of Fiorentino’s power, but in what could be called literal misdirection, he then relegates her to the edges of the film.


Also, as with theJade‘s resistance to copy Basic Instinct, even as it is unavoidably a cannibalized version of that film, Friedkin seems to want his lead actress to visually replay her star-making role from The Last Seduction, at one point even putting her in a costume nearly identical to that of Bridget Gregory. Insultingly, the director has her dress the part of a star, undresses her when the film needs some sizzle, and then causes her to disappear into a supporting role.


By the time Friedkin revisits his own cinematic trademark, the car chase, and then actually interrupts it for a two-minute sequence in which the involved automobiles wind slowly through a parade, it is clear to the viewer that he is content to expose himself and his audience to movie limbo. Passively-aggressively calling attention to other hit movies only to defang those references in the most bloodless way, Jade could be called a film that has contempt for its audience. Jade denies the viewer the pleasures that are needlessly treated as being beyond reach despite being right there on the screen in front of us, begging to be rearranged, realized and enlivened.


In the end, though, it is difficult to work up much passion for Jade. The film is too complacently boring.


Curiously, what Jade might really be about is Hollywood itself, and that could explain why its makers found more to it than meets the viewer’s eye. Friedkin and Eszterhas, in addition to producers Robert Evans and Craig Baumgarten, were all operating on different levels within the same excessive, hard-partying town wherein business and pleasure were tiring and reaching their limits in the mid-‘90s. Feeling the effects of the previous blockbuster decade, many were realizing they could not keep the party going forever, and the lavishness started to seem more outrageous with each passing year.


Eszterhas would renounce his ways not too long after Jade was released, so it is possible to retroactively read his script, with its art collectors, politicians, and other powerful people with secrets, as a veiled take on the fantasy life coming to an end. After all, the film’s tagline is “Some fantasies go too far.”


The arrival of Jade on Blu-ray could have been a great way for Lionsgate to reintroduce home video viewers to this relic of post-Basic Instinct Hollywood, when and where the cash ran freely and the studios cynically misjudged the intelligence of this would-be thriller’s audience. One could imagine a deluxe release featuring commentaries from writer, director and stars, in which they could confess, revise and/or defend their involvement in the film. A deluxe version could include deleted or restored scenes, featurettes on James Horner’s music and Andrzej Bartkowiak’s cinematography, and most significantly, the director’s cut of the film.


Friedkin’s alternate cut, which is more faithful to the conclusion of Eszterhas’ script, was released on VHS and aired on Cinemax, yet it never appeared on DVD and is inexplicably missing from this Blu-ray disc. As with nearly everything else about the film, the Blu-ray release of Jade is a missed opportunity.


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