Romeo Is Bleeding

Released by Gramercy, after winning the top award at the Montreal Festival, Kalifornia was dismissed by critics and failed at the box-office, a fate also met by Gramercy's other noir that year, Peter Medak's Romeo Is Bleeding (1994). Like most of today's hip filmmakers, writer Hilary Henkin perceives noir as a visual style, not a sensibility. Romeo Is Bleeding has all the familiar trappings–inky photography, hard-boiled ironies–but the arch script panders to the audience's sense of knowingness, shuffling the cliches to an even greater extreme than the Coens.

Jack (Gary Oldman), a corrupt cop in the mold of Bad Lieutenant, works both sides of the law. Amoral, he tips off the mob as to the location of witnesses he's supposed to protect, and lies to his wife (Annabelle Sciorra) about his mistress (Juliette Lewis) and to both of them about the other women. Motivated by lust and greed, Jack is baffled when the mob boss (Roy Scheider) orders him to murder the seductively wild Russian hit woman Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin).

Directed with excessive stylistic tricks, Romeo Is Bleeding was aesthetically offensive to most critics, and the few viewers who saw it. From the ridiculous voiceover narration to the incomprehensible plot contortions, it was hermetic with no link to the real world. All the cues derive from genre conventions, which the film misunderstands and lacerates. Olin gave an over-the-top performance as the alternately shrewd and bestial mob woman, and a scene in which she escapes a car while wounded is not just campy but preposterous. Movieish to the point of extinction, Romeo is Bleeding is all hollow decorative set pieces and no substance.