Owen Gleiberman
February 04, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

Romeo Is Bleeding

Current Status
In Season
Gary Oldman, Lena Olin, Juliette Lewis, Roy Scheider, Annabella Sciorra
Peter Medak

We gave it a C+

For those who like their film noir hot, bloody, and explosive, Romeo Is Bleeding would seem to be just the Molotov cocktail the doctor ordered. An action-jammed cousin to Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, this studiously garish underworld thriller centers on another furtive, hedonistic New York City cop whose defining trait-other than the fact that he can’t keep his fly zipped-is his complete lack of scruples. Sgt. Jack Grimaldi (Gary Oldman) works for the Organized Crime Task Force, but his job, which consists of surveying glamorously decadent mobsters through binoculars, is just a pretext. For Jack, the real action is the blood money he makes supplying crime boss Don Falcone (Roy Scheider) with the interim locations of Witness Protection Program volunteers. If you’re wondering how Jack gets away with this (wouldn’t his cop colleagues notice that the witnesses on his beat keep getting bumped off?), you’re already demonstrating more logic than Romeo Is Bleeding, a movie whose helter-skelter plot is held together less by substance than by ”poetic” dollops of mood and sensation.

Thus far, Jack’s efforts have netted him $350,000, which he plans to use to escape the boredom of life with his wife (Annabella Sciorra) and Kewpie-doll mistress (Juliette Lewis) and to enter the big leagues of sleaze. He wants to be that mobster on the other end of the binoculars. Film noir has always thrived on disreputable lust, and for a while Romeo Is Bleeding conjures up a beguiling gutter of dreams. Oldman, never a very warm actor, gives Jack a pale, scuzzy desperation. And it was an inspired move to cast the elegantly delectable Lena Olin as mob assassin Mona Demarkov. Flashing her legs (and more than that) in lace-top stockings, letting her soulful cat’s face erupt into a ruby-lipped smile that’s like a neon advertisement for sin, Olin is everything you want in a femme fatale: the promise of danger and delirious sex wrapped up in one irresistible package.

Yet instead of coaxing a character out of Olin’s red-hot suggestiveness, the filmmakers turn her into a sci-fi supervamp, a ruthless psycho avenger. Romeo Is Bleeding takes a fatal detour when Jack and Mona engage in a raucous, bloody brawl and then continue their scuffle in a speeding car, with Mona wrapping her killer thighs around Jack while he’s driving. What began as a life-size fable of corrupt ambition becomes an ugly carnival of mayhem, featuring splatter-fest shoot-outs, a dismembered arm, a live burial. The veteran British director Peter Medak (The Ruling Class) seems to be trying for his own version of one of Quentin Tarantino’s blood-sport thrillers (Reservoir Dogs, True Romance). But Tarantino’s films, for all their shock, have wit, dash, and a healthy respect for the pleasures of narrative. Romeo Is Bleeding just ends up flaunting its Grand Guignol outrageousness, rubbing our noses in its desire to be a gaudy hipster freak show. By the end, the film has become so mired in pointless sensation that it ceases to be any fun at all. C+

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