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'Stormy Monday' (R)By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 13, 1988
"Stormy Monday" is a real looker -- a British thriller as provocative as a film noir dame in the act of straightening her seams. Unfortunately, it is all style and promise, a come-on that keeps on coming on but never satisfies. The Big Tease.
Mike Figgis, a former rock musician, approaches his first feature as if it were a concert film, using lots of crowd reaction shots and a pervasive soundscape. He has a way with clues and blues, making every character suspicious and every moment whisper menace against his own haunting score. He provides a veritable school of red herring, abiding thriller conventions to keep us in a constant state of paranoia.
In the opening scenes, tension mounts as Melanie Griffith tosses in her sleep, Sean Bean tunes in a radio station and Tommy Lee Jones limos purposefully toward Newcastle. Inevitably the cast will come to blows over a land development deal backed by Jones, playing a ruthless Texas businessman with mob connections and an army of henchmen.
The only thing standing in his way is a cocksure nightclub owner played by Sting in a performance as incisive as his name. It's America Week in Newcastle, and a giant Pepsi balloon occupies the town circle, symbol of Uncle Sam's inflated ego -- the subtext of one dying empire taking over another. But Sting insists on discord, bringing in the ghastly Krakow Jazz Ensemble.
Bean, a jazz aficionado and a newcomer to Newcastle, takes a job as a janitor at Sting's club, overhears two hoods plotting to take the boss' life, and meets Griffith at a restaurant all in one night. Before you can say "go sleep with the fishes," Bean is in bed with Griffith and on Jones' hit list. He's a warmhearted Irish innocent who wises up quickly in Griffith's fast company.
Griffith is a troubled corporate moll, the Minnesota girl who's seen too much but remains a Midwestern farm girl deep inside. She is officially Jones' property -- a fleshy kewpie who lures Newcastle councilmen into voting for her employer's dockside development scam. The exact nature of their relationship -- the sort in which the woman always says "you're hurting my arm" -- remains unclear, and writer-director Figgins is perversely coy about coming clean. And when he finally puts his lips together to blow, it's a wheeze instead of a whistle.
"Stormy Monday" is all about ambiguity. If it is possible to come down on one side or the other, Figgins doesn't. Griffith does, adding to this mystery with her Monroe's mix of smarts and vulnerability. She's a kitten, with the cunning of an alley cat. You can't help but want to take care of her, just because you know she can take care of herself.
"Stormy Monday" is rated R for profanity and nudity.
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