DVD Review: Dark Streets (2008)

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It seems that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas-- even when it comes to CineVegas where filmmaker Rachel Samuels received a 2008 Special Jury Prize for this-- her third feature film based on screenwriter Wallace King's adaptation of Glenn M. Stewart's play "City Club."

And perhaps the reason Dark Streets was such a hit in a city filled with so much sinful eye candy is precisely because that's exactly the type of film that Samuels made. Likewise, it's the style of musical I gravitate to with its classic film noir landscape of dark shadowy sidewalks and mysterious alleyways-- men dressed from head to toe in slanted fedoras complete with shoes so shiny you can see your face in them and women who are sassy, sexy, yet refreshingly smart wearing gowns that practically need to be sewn onto them directly with perfect red lips and chip free nail polish to match.

In fact, this is where the film's downfall comes in as the talent and beauty simply oozes off the screen in an overwhelming visceral feast for the senses that musical and noir junkies are sure to eat up on aesthetics alone... until that is, they realize that we're all following the wrong main character throughout the eighty-four minute running time, the screenplay makes little-- if any-- sense, and the last portion of the film derails completely into a strange hybrid of Moulin Rouge meets Inland Empire.

Still for a majority of the 1930s set work-- the areas of costume, makeup, production design, luscious cinematography, classy Fosse meets 30s choreographer from Rent brainchild Keith Young, and original music from such blues and jazz luminaries as B.B. King, Natalie Cole, Etta James, Richie Sambora, Aaron Neville and Dr. John keep us dazzled as the backdrop for a classic musical noir storyline.

Having recently inherited the Tower nightclub after his power company executive father died in mysterious circumstances, we're soon caught up in blandly inevitable love triangle involved when our leading man (played in all actuality by Gabriel Mann) casts aside his brunette headliner Crystal-- a talented cabaret singing sexy girl Friday (Bijou Phillips)-- in favor of a blonde and seemingly angelic chanteuse (Izabella Miko).

Although Mann struggles with a bad period mustache and an under-written role that's roughly on par to Michael Douglas sitting in the audience in A Chorus Line-- Phillips easily dominates her scenes and all of her numbers. While Samuels and her screenwriter try to throw a few red herrings into the film including some frequent power outages that Ebert, Cinematical and others have likened to possible Enron allegories and Mann's character does initially try to pursue what had happened to his father-- ultimately it never really pays off and we don't feel that invested in his plight.

In fact, I became far more fascinated wondering how much better the Dark Streets would have been if-- obviously in addition to a complete rewrite and just going for it with those tremendous show-stopping numbers-- perhaps Phillips' Crystal would've been the character we'd been following all along in the vein of more female-centric (or at least better gender-balanced) musicals like Chicago, Moulin Rouge and Cabaret.

Likewise, Mann's character's stupidity is infuriating as it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that something is definitely rotten in these Dark Streets when the blonde woman shows up shortly after his father's death when the indebted young man is asked to audition her by a shady police lieutenant friend (Elias Koteas).

Overall, Samuels has ultimately made a beautiful and passionate film of wasted potential-- that's essentially similar to a jazz or blues artist who squanders their promise not on the music but the fast lifestyle that the film's trailer, tagline, and synopsis promise. Although, honestly, given the amount of talent involved, I still think it could still be salvaged as one hell of a wonderful Broadway musical.

Yet much like a weekend in Vegas, it's an artistically imaginative and inspiring spectacle from a purely visual and auditory standpoint and something you'll have to see to believe but you probably won't want to return to often... when you realize that in the end, there's still no place like home or a narrative that makes sense.

Still, for those fellow musical buffs like yours truly that can't wait to scope it out-- you'll be happy to learn that it's been impeccably transferred on this Sony DVD that boasts director and cast commentary (which beats the uninspired dialogue but not the musical numbers so you'll want to switch it off for that) along with deleted scenes. Though, overall, for a superior movie from Sony about what it truly means to sing the blues-- check out last year's underrated Cadillac Records.

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