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‘Romeo Is Bleeding’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 04, 1994

Hilary Henkin, writer-producer of "Romeo Is Bleeding," is out to prove that a woman can exploit blood, guts and garter belts with the best of the boys. The author of such shoot-'em-ups as "Executioner" and "Road House," Henkin has hard-boiled the action genre twice over with this lurid, ludicrous, appallingly violent, offhandedly moralistic spoof.

Henkin's chief creation -- and the character that propels her underworld yarn -- is a sleazoid Circe, Mona Demarkov (played with sluttish style by Lena Olin). A hit woman for the mob, she becomes the nemesis of Jack Grimaldi (Gary Oldman), a corrupt New York City cop motivated by gonads and greenbacks. Jack, a veteran cop on loan to the Organized Crime Task Force, has been walking both sides of the street successfully for some time when he crosses paths with Mona, who's been arrested for murdering an entire pool party.

Assigned to guard her by the cops and to ice her by the mob, Jack louses up on both counts when he is seduced by Mona, who is handcuffed to a chair at a time. Men being such lunkheads, it's easy. She simply licks her lips and sits in an unladylike fashion. Then before you can say, "I see London, I see France," he's removed the cuffs and jumped her, but not for long. She prefers the uppermost position.

Shortly thereafter, the nefarious Mona escapes and Jack finds himself in trouble with Don Falcone (Roy Scheider), who threatens to disfigure Jack's docile wife (Annabella Sciorra), gut his nubile girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) and burn down his house if he doesn't finish off Mona. But Jack makes a deal with Mona, who shows him her underwear again and promises him $300,000 if he'll say she's dead and produce a body.

When Jack is too slow to act, Don Falcone's goons cut off some of his toes just to show they mean business. Now certain that his loved ones are in danger, he sends his wife out West and his girlfriend somewhere or other. And as noir types do, he says something that sounds good but doesn't make a lot of sense: "What makes love so frightening is that you don't own it. It owns you."

Sad and bleeding from the toes, he sets off to keep a date with Mona, a meeting that leads to a series of increasingly nasty developments. Blessedly, some of these, as when Mona loses an arm, occur offscreen. Now armed with a prosthesis, Mona offers Jack an option in their next sex scene: "With or without?" she demands. "Without," says Jack to Mona, who flings off her limb much as one might a lacy teddy.

Basically, there's nothing new or revolutionary about Mona, a stock man-eater on the order of the puncture-wounding leg spreader of "Basic Instinct." For that matter, there's nothing new about women exploiting women either. For every whorehouse, there is a madam. And in the case of "Romeo," that would be Henkin.

"Romeo Is Bleeding" comes with a Chandlerian narration that puts us in mind of slow-turning ceiling fans, dubious morality, rueful lessons and mysterious dames. As directed by Peter Medak, the movie ricochets giddily from noir hommage to action parody. Medak, who dealt with the gangster milieu in "The Krays" and "Let Him Have It," may also have drawn some inspiration from working with his wife, diva Julia Migenes, who starred in his operatic film, "Salome." Now, there was a bitch.

"Romeo Is Bleeding" is rated R for violence, language, nudity and sexual situations.

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