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‘Chicago Joe and the Showgirl’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 13, 1990


Bernard Rose
Kiefer Sutherland;
Emily Lloyd;
Patsy Kensit;
Liz Fraser;
Alexandra Pigg
Under 17 restricted

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So much depends on little things. For example, if Joyce (Patsy Kensit), Lt. Ricky Allen's girlfriend, had agreed to sleep with him, he might not have had to survey the loose women of wartime London to fill up "his empty time."

And he might not have hooked up with a small-time showgirl with dreams of Hollywood glory named Georgina Grayson.

And he might not have murdered two innocent people and become the only American to be tried in an English court during World War II and hanged by the neck until dead.

See, it's all Joyce's fault.

The movie here is "Chicago Joe and the Showgirl." Kiefer Sutherland is Ricky Allen, a k a Chicago Joe, but he's not really a lieutenant and he's never been to Chicago and his real name is something else. Something German sounding.

Chicago is an American private and a deserter, moving through the lower echelons of London's black market, when he meets Georgina (Emily Lloyd), whose name is something else too, and who's actually a stripper.

One thing is genuine about Georgina, though -- she's genuinely crazy. She has had a too-steady diet of Hollywood films noir and mob pictures, and her greatest dream is to be a gangster's moll. And so when she meets Chicago Joe, who claims to be doing advance work for Al Capone's move into England, she seizes her opportunity for scintillating danger, urging him first to commit petty crimes, then murder.

What "Chicago Joe and the Showgirl" -- ghastly title -- turns out to be is a somber variation of "Bonnie and Clyde" or "Gun Crazy." But director Bernard Rose and screenwriter David Yallop seem to have left out both the psychological underpinnings of the killers and the kicky thrills they get from their crimes. It's like James M. Cain under a load of wet laundry.

Maybe it was the fact that the story is actually true that made the filmmakers feel they couldn't enter imaginatively into their characters' actions. Though there's a macabre jolt to one of the murders -- the victim gets a nasty smack with a tire iron -- Rose pulls away from both Chicago's horror and Georgina's hysterical glee.

Sutherland gives a charmless performance here, straining for both a star's casual glamour and overwrought Method posturing. On the other hand, Lloyd suggests that with another director she could have taken the character where it needed to go -- there's a scary amorality in her little girl's giggle.

As a filmmaker, Rose -- who did evocative, atmospheric work on "Paperhouse" -- is either squeamish or too tasteful, and neither is useful. What's needed is a touch of passionate pop vitality. What we get are some cliched and unconvincing fantasies -- sprung from Georgina's head -- in which she and Chicago are dressed up in gangster duds. Or shots, like the ones that open the film, in which Georgina sees herself as a movie star arriving by limo, amid flashbulb explosions, for the premiere of her new film.

Those flashbulbs -- which are dubbed to sound like cannons, the way they did in "Raging Bull" -- reappear when the criminals are dragged before the press after their confessions, and for a moment it looks as if Rose is about to misplay the scene and blow the chance to connect this notoriety with Georgina's dreams of stardom. He doesn't, but in playing it out he simply confirms what a banal setup it was to begin with. Just like everything that's gone before.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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