Art Deco Detective: Failed Campy Satire from Philippe Mora

If you didn’t know the credits of director Philippe Mora (Communion, Howling II and III, the ecological thriller A Breed Apart), you would think Art Deco Detective, an intellectually pretentious, failed campy satire about the “crazy” state of the world, was made by a novice.

Though showing some facility for fast dialogue, this verbose pic is just eccentric, lacking the zest, fun, or disturbing provocation that one would expect from midnight fare. Short theatrical release is a warm-up en route to video.

Writer-helmer Mora concocts a potpourri, which mixes elements of classic noir, international political thrillers, and sex satires. At its center is Arthur Decowitz (John Dennis Johnson), nicknamed Art Deco, an aging, burnt-out detective in the mold of Raymond Chandler’s heroes, who becomes a pawn in an international scheme, motivated by conspiracy and paranoia that might even surprise Oliver Stone. Deco is set up as the fall guy in a CIA plan to trap Hyena (Stephen McHattie), a mad terrorist threatening to blow up Los Angeles and incriminate the Middle East.

The tale is somewhat leavened by Deco’s encounters with a gallery of zany, if stereotypical, characters: a sleazy British filmmaker, a Hollywood sex goddess, a Washington call girl, undercover agents, manipulative diplomats, and so on. Unfortunately, pic is too derivative in its recycling of noir conventions and types, including a subplot of twin sisters (played by Rena Riffel), one of whom is believed to be murdered.

Lenser Walter Bal, who years back worked on Truffaut’s films, keeps the camera close to the characters, as dialogue is the crucial element–and chief problem–in this film. There are probably no more than a dozen witty lines and a dozen moments that justify the film’s claim to being a relevant political satire. The rest is just verbose mumbo jumbo.

Though it contains S&M sex and cross-dressing, Art Deco qualifies as camp in intent rather than execution. You keep hoping for pic, which ideally should have been a short, to pass over into the realm of camp, but it stubbornly refuses.


Running time: 102 minutes

A Trident Releasing Inc. release. Produced by Philippe Mora and Bruce Critchley. Directed, written by Mora. Camera (Eastman, color), Walter Bal; editor, Janet Wilcox-Morton; music, Allan Zavod; production design, Pamela Krause Mora; costume design, Sarah Hackett; sound (Dolby), Kermit Samples; associate producers, Jim and Laura Kirsner, Jen Lin, Joe Taetle; assistant director, Dan Allingham.


Arthur Decowitz…John Dennis Johnston
Hyena……………..Stephen McHattie
Jim Wexler……………..Brion James
Detective Guy Lean……….Joe Santos
Julie/Meg Hudson………..Rena Riffel
Irina Bordat…………….Sonia Cole
Lana Torrido…………Max John-James