'Traces of Red' is a clueless thriller that's riddled with holes

December 04, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"Traces of Red" is one of those thrillers that raises more questions than it can possibly answer, the worst of which is, "Why did I go to see this movie?"

It's a cop-thriller, Florida style, in which a slightly smarmy homicide detective on the quest of a serial killer begins to wonder if the killer isn't himself. James Belushi plays a laid-back single cop named Jack Dugan who's sleeping with one of Palm Beach's more flamboyant Older Women (Lorraine Bracco, trying to play a sexpot, sadly miscast) but is not averse to a one-night stand should the opportunity provide itself. It does and the young woman is promptly murdered.

Despite his involvement, he and partner Steve Frayn (Tony Goldwyn) are given the case. The true tension in the film is between them, as Frayn, nominally "happily married," secretly yearns to experience some of the casual passion that is Belushi's specialty. For some reason Goldwyn has been encouraged to play his role at a high pitch of neurotic tension that completely unsettles the movie; he seems less like a police detective than a suicidal poet rejected by a society that no longer gives a damn about poetry, skulking about giving declamations or seeming to swallow a billiard ball when caught (as he always is) in drab little lies.

Other suspects include Bracco herself, Belushi's brother, a lawyer and congressional candidate played by William Russ, and a number of obvious red herrings that are thrown up and dispensed with to eat up screen time. Almost none of this works.

But what works least of all is the conclusion. I have no inside info, but my guess is that the movie was written with one surprise ending, tested abysmally with it, and so still another surprise ending was appended. Without trying to give too much away, let me tell you that the "final twist" twists so hard that it all but twists the head off this turkey. It completely invalidates what comes before it. Yes, it gives you a jump; on the way home, you realize how absurd it's all been, and how the filmmakers just haven't played by any fair set of rules.

I happen to like movies that are set in real places and the Palm Beach backgrounds are nicely felt and contribute a lot to the film. In fact, they really are the only reason for seeing it.

'Traces of Red'

Starring James Belushi and Lorraine Bracco.

Directed by Andy Wolk.

Released by New Line.

Rated R.


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