Blood & Wine

Director: Bob Rafelson
Screenplay: Alison Cross and Nick Villiers
Stars: Jack Nicholson (Alex Gates), Stephen Dorff (Jason Gates), Jennifer Lopez (Gabriella), Judy Davis (Suzanne Gates), Michael Caine (Victor), Harold Perrineau Jr. (Henry), Robyn Peterson (Dina)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1996
Country: USA
"Blood & Wine" is director Bob Rafelson's fifth collaboration with actor Jack Nicholson, and it is certainly one of the least. A slowly-plotted, mostly uninvolving modern-day Miami film noir, it is also the third (slightly belated) installment in what Rafelson terms an "informal trilogy" that also includes "Five Easy Pieces" (1970) and "The King of Marvin Gardens" (1972).

On the surface, "Blood & Wine" doesn't seem like it should be such an insipid film because all the right elements are there for something really good: an A-list cast, a notorious director, a script that includes a diamond heist and lots of double-crossing. But, despite all that being in its favor, "Blood & Wine" is quite simply dull. Well-made, but dull.

Nicholson plays Alex Gates, a Miami wine dealer whose business is about to go under because he's wasted all his money (well, actually his wife's money) on his various mistresses. His most recent is Gabriella (Jennifer Lopez), a sexy Cuban immigrant who works for a rich Miami socialite family to whom Alex regularly delivers wine. In a desperate attempt to save himself from financial ruin, Alex enlists the help of Victor (Michael Caine), a sleazy, tubercular English thief, to steal a $1.3 million diamond necklace from the family.

All goes according to plan until Alex's distanced wife (Judy Davis) and his spiteful, twentysomething slacker step-son (Stephen Dorff) get involved. The necklace ends up trading hands several times, and most of the movie is given over to following Alex and Victor as they struggle to track it down. The film includes all the obligatory double-crosses and ambiguous relationships of a film noir, but somehow it just never gels.

The main problem here is the characters, specifically the fact that none of them is particularly interesting. Film noirs are extremely reliant on fascinating characters the audience can get involved with. They don't have to be good people (look at classics like 1944's "Double Indemnity" or just about any Hitchcock thriller), but they have to worth an emotional investment by the viewer. The fact is, in "Blood & Wine," we could mostly care less who ends up with the diamonds and who gets killed.

Unfortunately, this lack of characterization in the script by Alison Cross and Nick Villiers (from a story by Rafelson and Villiers) drags down a list of good actors. Nicholson is shockingly boring in the title role because he really doesn't have much to go on -- the script never dives beneath his surface motivations for the crime, and his penchant for suddenly sentimental feelings about the family he apparently hates is confusing. Caine's performance is mostly limited to looking greasy and coughing constantly, although he does get the film's best line: "Rich people are so cheap. They'll spend a million dollars on a necklace, and then store it in a tin box from Sears."

Dorff's character is even more shallow and under-developed -- in a heartbeat, he veers from uncombed slacker to dedicated son avenging his mother's betrayal. Gabriella is also drawn in shady sketches -- she doesn't seem to be all that important to the central plot except for an oddly-developed love triangle between her, Nicholson, and Dorff. I suppose she is intended to be the closest thing the film has to a moral center, but that would be stretching.

The movie also suffers from a decided lack of suspense. There's really only one effective scene, when Caine is in the middle of stealing the diamonds and a neighborhood security guard is prowling the house despite Nicholson's assurances that nothing is going on. It's done in the best style of Hitchcock, but it's the only sequence in the entire film that puts you anywhere close to the edge of your seat. The rest of it is the standard melee of car chases and fist fights, some of which are unnecessarily violent.

Instead of being a career reviver, "Blood & Wine" is another unfortunate stumble by Rafelson, who showed such great promise in 1970 with "Five Easy Pieces." His output in the last ten years has been uneven at best, and this film won't gain him any better standing. With some minor script revision and a little more energy, this could have been an interesting film; as it stands now, the most appropriate word for it is "bland."

Copyright ©1998 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (2)

James Kendrick

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