Face Down (1997 TVM)

US / 108 minutes / color / Showtime, Eberhardt–Weisberg Dir & Scr: Thom Eberhardt Pr: Roni Weisberg Cine: John Holosko Cast: Joe Mantegna, Peter Riegert, Kelli Maroney, Cameron Thor, Adam Ant, J.K. Simmons, Shannon Lawson, Kent Staines.

Bubbly blonde Meredith “Merre” (pronounced “merry”) Lake (Maroney) arrives at the offices of Manhattan PI company Aames Investigations to ask for help: she’s being followed by people in cars. Caddish ladykiller PI Robert “Bob” Signorelli (Mantegna) doesn’t care much about her concerns but hopes to bed her, which he soon does; even less does he connect her to yesterday’s high-profile murder of shyster Richard Casio. Yet a connection soon emerges, after Bob’s partner Herbie Aames (Simmons) is murdered by someone shooting from Meredith’s apartment: it proves that Meredith is working for pretentious Brit art-gallery owner Derek Fry (Ant), whose business was last year bailed out by Casio and who thus had reason to want the man dead—better that than have to repay a hefty loan.

It soon seems to Bob—and to us—that Fry’s hitman must be tough cop John “Coop” Cooper (Riegert), who’s currently under investigation by Internal Affairs. Complicating the issue is the fact that, five years ago, Bob was drummed out of the NYPD for misconduct, and Coop, like most of the rest of the Homicide Department, has loathed him ever since; an additional complication is that it proves Meredith suffers acute schizophrenia, that despite her Pollyanna image has done hardcore porn, and that she’s more recently been manipulated into going off her meds and so could easily have murdered Casio—possibly also Herbie Aames. The only NYPD cop who seems sympathetic to Bob is Coop’s partner Curtis Lowell (Thor).

This tends to be dismissed as an erotic thriller but fails to match that description; there’s some sex and nudity but less than in many a mainstream movie. The camerawork (plenty of angled shots, etc.), the soundtrack by Gunther Schuller and Joe Lovano (with jazzy saxophone featuring prominently) and of course the screenplay all contribute to the movie’s noirishness. Where it falls down is in some of the performances: Ant isn’t uniformly bad but suffers enough lapses to remind us that acting’s his second profession; Maroney, who comes across as a sort of cutrate Rebecca De Mornay, is highly personable but again stumbles on occasion; the role given to Lawson, that of Aames Investigations’ secretary Emily Jones, complete with a not-so-secret pash for Bob, forces her into one of those embarrassing semi-parodic plain-girl performances you find in softcore porn movies. The solution to the various mysteries is well disguised beforehand and does come as a genuine surprise; that and arguably Thor’s performance are where the movie scores.

On Amazon.com: Face Down [VHS]

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