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I wasn't at all surprised when some of Abel Ferrara's most eloquent defenders labeled this transgressive 1998 adaptation of a William Gibson story the collapse of a major talent. A murky and improbable tale about prostitution, industrial espionage, and manufactured viruses, it works on the very edge of coherence even before the final 20 minutes or so, during which earlier portions of the film are replayed with minor variations and additions. On the other hand, few American films in recent years have been so beautifully composed and color coordinated, shot by shot, and the overall experience of an opium dream is so intense that you might stop making demands of the narrative once you realize that none of the usual genre expectations is going to be met. Almost all the principal action occurs offscreen, and most of Ferrara and Christ Zois's script concentrates on scenes involving a corporate raider (Christopher Walken), his deputy (Willem Dafoe), and an Italian prostitute (Asia Argento) hired to seduce a Japanese scientist. Recurring aerial shots of unidentified cities and a good many dimly lit interiors alternate with grainy video-surveillance images to create the visual equivalent of a multinational labyrinth in which you might easily lose yourself. Coproduced by Walken and Dafoe, it's too far off the beaten path to please most audiences, but I find its decadent erotic poetry irresistible. 92 min.

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