'Storyville' traces complex descent into New Orleans underworld

January 22, 1993|By Scott Hettrick | Scott Hettrick,Los Angeles Times Syndicate


(Columbia TriStar, 1992)

"Storyville" is a complicated political thriller that demands complete attention but doesn't make that a challenging task for the viewer.

James Spader is really too young-looking to be completely convincing as Cray Fowler, a third-generation New Orleans politician running for the U.S. Congress. But Jason Robards is perfect as his salty and politically savvy uncle. Robards plays the brother of Fowler's father, who was killed years earlier in a hunting accident (which may have been suicide) the day before he was to testify in a federal investigation into his involvement in oil-lease fraud.

An impressive directorial debut for "Twin Peaks" co-creator Mark Frost, "Storyville" has new characters and new subplots introduced every few minutes without allowing it all to become overwhelming.

Caught in a loveless marriage to a woman whose primary concern is purchasing a car in her favorite color, Fowler is entangled in a conspiracy against him when he meets a Vietnamese woman for sex in a seedy stripper district.

The girl's father attacks him and knocks him unconscious. When he awakes, the man's throat has been slashed by an unknown assailant and it looks like Fowler is about to be framed. He flees but later finds out that he is being blackmailed by someone who has a videotape of his sexual liaison.

Meanwhile, the girl has been charged with the murder, and Fowler volunteers to defend her to clear his conscience and to try to gain some points on his campaign opponent through the publicity surrounding the trial. The trial features a circus of characters, including a crooked police detective (Michael Parks), transvestite witness (Galyn Gorg) and a slimy and intimidating porn photographer well played by Charles Haid.

I didn't mention that the prosecuting attorney in the case is Fowler's former girlfriend, in whom he is starting to regain interest. I also didn't mention that while all this is happening, Fowler is involved in his own investigation into the oil-lease-fraud allegations that preceded his father's death.

It's not imperative that you completely grasp every tentacle to enjoy this cinematic octopus, because each one is interesting on its own. Overall, Frost has created a slick and fascinating world, even if it is not the most pleasant of environments.

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