A mannerist thriller (1990, 114 min.) that doesn't begin to work despite the number of talented hands involved: Donald E. Westlake adapting a Jim Thompson novel, Stephen Frears directing, Martin Scorsese coproducing, and a more than capable cast. A small-time con artist (John Cusack) in Los Angeles meets up with his mother (Anjelica Huston), a hardened criminal working for a sadistic big-timer (Pat Hingle) who despises the crooked tart (Annette Bening) her son has as a lover; many double crosses later, the incestuous underpinnings in this uneasy triangle come to the fore. While the filmmakers manage to keep things interesting (sexy, kinky, and ambiguous) much of the time, the self-conscious piety that Frears lavishes on this material places it in an uncertain netherworld that prevents it from ever becoming fully convincing, even as a stylistic exercise. The time is apparently the present, but the style nudges us so insistently back into the 40s and 50s that the characters seem cut adrift, without a stable world to support them. Nevertheless, if one can overlook Elmer Bernstein's irritating ricky-tick score and forget After Dark, My Sweet (a much superior Thompson adaptation), there are plenty of compensations: sleek cinematography by Oliver Stapleton, and, in addition to the aforementioned actors, nice turns in smaller roles by Henry Jones and J.T. Walsh, among others.
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