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‘Blue Steel’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 16, 1990


Kathryn Bigelow
Jamie Lee Curtis;
Ron Silver;
Clancy Brown;
Elizabeth Pena;
Louise Fletcher
Under 17 restricted

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As "Blue Steel" opens, with a flashy, almost abstract inspection of policewoman Jamie Lee Curtis and her weaponry, there's an implicit promise that, even though this is yet another cop movie, everything's going to be all right in the hands of Kathryn Bigelow, a painter-turned-director with a proven talent for stylistics.

But by the time this psychological tussle between firearm-obsessed, genderless Curtis and broker-by-day, stabber-by-night lunatic Ron Silver plays out -- or rigor-mortisses out, perhaps -- Bigelow's arty promise is a distant memory. What starts out as a moody arthouse flick rapidly becomes an uneven B-movie yukfest (sometimes intentional, sometimes not), with low-budget concessions to the Hollywood cop-versus-killer industry.

What happened? Did Bigelow run out of money (this MGM/UA release was originally made for low-budget Vestron Pictures), or time or patience? Did she give up on the project halfway through?

If there's any success to "Blue Steel," it's in how dizzying a fall it takes from good to bad -- through the basement of bad, in fact, and out the other side. In fact, you're likely to start enjoying it for its failings. You start this movie hushed and respectful. You may end it baying and howling.

Curtis puts sharp-featured dedication, and even bouts of empathetic tenderness, behind her obsessional badge but she's a pawn in Bigelow's misbegotten scheme of things. The more earnest she becomes, the more ridiculous a figure she makes.

A new cop with a fetish for her .38 revolver and a serious jones to pump bad guys full of lead ("I like to slam people's heads up against walls," she explains, with apparent sincerity, at one point), she interrupts an armed store robber one day and plasters him with bullets. The robber's gun gets mislaid in the confusion, however, and eyewitnesses can't corroborate her story, so Curtis is suspended. Things get further complicated when bullet shells inscribed with Curtis's name keep showing up next to murder victims' bodies. This is also around the time Curtis is starting to fall for good-looking stranger Silver.

As attraction becomes horror, then war (and it takes sharp-minded Curtis an eternity to see the light), the over-familiar battle of wills turns mechanical in every sense. Curtis and Silver seem to be robots, she Ms. "Robocop," he a dark-featured, yuppie version of Arnold Schwarzenegger's marauding "Terminator."

Bigelow, who made "Near Dark," a wonderful, stylistic movie about vampires as wandering punks, and "Loveless," an engaging exercise in Brandoesque, leatherjacketed attitude, has proved herself as a great original. It's intended as a left-handed compliment to say she makes a lousy hack.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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