Dark Streets Dir. Rachel Samuels

[Samuel Goldwyn Films; 2008]

Darks Streets, a bluesy mystery-musical from director Rachel Samuels, is sort of like the untalented love child of Sin City and Chicago, both major stylistic successes borrowed from different media. But where its predecessors glittered and gleamed with nighttime corruption, Dark Streets gloams and lopes around in the shadows of the crystallized genres it strives to portray. Its musical scenes and kitschy homages to film noir are overdone but not interesting or innovative enough to really stand out. Perhaps the two devices would compliment each other better if there was more incentive for the viewer to pay attention.

Adapted by Wallace King from Glenn M. Stewart’s original play, Dark Streets takes place in an unnamed American city, which I, for clarity’s sake, will call “Noirleans.” Noirleans is a moody metropolis, lorded over by the influential Davenports, the sole owners of an energy company. The city's story unfolds through the narrations of Prince (Toledo Diamond), a flamboyant ringmaster with a penchant for raspy blues metaphors.

Chaz Davenport (who I am convinced shares the same name with a character from Gossip Girl), a young, debonair philanderer is played by Gabriel Mann, who sort of looks like the love child of James Franco and David Arquette. Having lost his father and, mysteriously, his rightful inheritance, Chaz struggles to keep his new nightclub, the Tower, afloat despite the rampant blackouts that plague Noirleans. Intrigue and slide guitar abound as Chaz searches for answers that others would prefer he not find. I won’t say what he does discover, but the twists of turns of Noirleans won’t come as a surprise to anyone following Prince’s indulgent musings and the clues that show up along the way.

Inside the nightclub, things get a little too Chicago for my taste. The Tower's main attraction is a bunch of sassy sirens that dance around and perform jazzy ditties that often link up to the plot. Some of the numbers are quite enjoyable for the spangly costumes, choreography, and original musical numbers (although the lip-synching could be a bit crisper). Crystal (Bijou Phillips) shimmies and croons on stage as the lead of the Tower’s troupe of temptresses. She’s Chaz’s old college sweetheart from the wrong side of the tracks and can generally look past his flirtatious tendencies.

But the balance between Chaz’s promiscuity and Crystal’s tolerance of same is broken when an angelic chanteuse, Madelaine (Izabella Miko), arrives asking for work as a singer. She, of form-fitting, sparkly white dresses! She, of fair skin and fairer hair! She is the femme fatale, and her perfection contrasts with brunette Crystal’s unrefined voice and evening wear.

The major flaw here is that Dark Streets showcases the platitudes of film noir without modifying them enough to interest viewers. But the concept extends even further than genre. There’s a camera technique employed throughout the film in which a large portion of the screen’s perimeter is obscured by a blurry focus. It’s a poignant tactic when used properly, as if to hint that things aren’t as they seem, even in the close periphery. But it doesn't have the same impact when almost every single shot is presented with this particular focus. In this sense, and in many others, Dark Streets' overzealousness eclipses its significance.

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