Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Overlooked Movies: The Poison Rose (2019)

In the first few minutes of this movie, we learn that it’s set in 1978 and that John Travolta plays a scruffy private eye who lives above a movie theater showing a revival of THE MALTESE FALCON. Right after that, we get some voice-over narration from Travolta’s character that’s ripped off from—I mean, inspired by—the iconic opening paragraph of Raymond Chandler’s story “Red Wind”. That’s the kind of movie THE POISON ROSE is: one that wouldn’t exist without a lot of other movies and books to riff off of.

However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you like private eye movies as much as I do.

Travolta’s character has some bad guys after him as a result of a falling-out with a previous client (although it’s also implied that the trouble is over a gambling debt, not the only instance of the script contradicting itself), so he decides it would be a good idea to accept a job that will take him to Galveston, Texas, for a while. He’s supposed to check on an elderly woman who’s suppose to be in a sanitarium there, but the people in charge won’t let her family see her anymore. (Has there ever been a sanitarium in a private eye movie or novel that wasn’t sinister?) Travolta’s character is from Galveston and has some old friends and enemies there, including gambling club owner Morgan Freeman, who has a sultry, beautiful daughter. The local sheriff (Robert Patrick) is another old acquaintance, and Travolta’s ex-wife (Famke Janssen) is on hand as well. There are all sorts of seemingly random elements crammed into the plot, including a murder, and if you guess that most of them will wind up being tied together somehow . . . well, you’ve seen movies and read books like this before, haven’t you?

There’s a lot of talking, a little gunplay, and some nice scenery (not Galveston, though; the movie was filmed in Savannah, Georgia), and everything comes together in a resolution that kind of makes sense. The fun is in the getting there, though, and in that respect THE POISON ROSE is pretty entertaining. Not perfect, by any means. There are those script glitches I mentioned, and some of the performances seem a little on the phoned-in side, plus it could have used more of a noirish musical score. I mean, when I think of scenes from CHINATOWN or THE LONG GOODBYE (to mention two private eye movies actually made in the Seventies that I love), I always think of the theme songs from those films, too.

And speaking of CHINATOWN, it kind of boggles my mind that the gap between when it was set (1937) and when it was made (1974) is less than the gap between THE POISON ROSE’s setting and today. It’s even more of a period piece than CHINATOWN was but doesn’t seem so at all to me. 1978 was just the day before yesterday, wasn’t it?

At any rate, after all that rambling around, I can say that I liked THE POISON ROSE, although I think it misses the mark in some respects. The movie has its heart in the right place, and that counts for quite a bit with me.

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