Lot of gunfire, but 'Industry' is off target

March 14, 1997|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

Has anyone noticed? It's raining Stephen Dorff.

By one of those odd schedule twitches, wild-haired young gun Dorff is in two, count 'em, two jewel heist movies this week. What have we done to deserve this?

Anyhow, in the violent and profane "City of Industry," he's the crackpot punk who turns against his own crew, killing two and wounding one, then takes the jewels and runs. The one survivor -- tough old coot Harvey Keitel -- hunts him down and is hunted back in return. The setting, all but mandatory these days, is the post-apocalyptic, ozone-depleted, rust-rich miasma of decaying urban America, in this case a parcel of oil wells near L.A. with the same name as the movie's.

Alas, poor Dorff: He's somewhat overmatched here. He seems to be getting the roles Kevin Bacon can now turn down, but he's so frail and scrawny, the trick isn't working. In an effort to gin up the machismo content, he's rock-and-rolled his hair with strategic gobbits of mousse (he looks like he was just electrocuted!) and wears a number of loose-fitting tank tops and T's and teardrop-shaped yellow glasses. But not even the Glock he carries can make him look grown up. It's like, "Spanky, put down that gun!"

Without a believable, hateable villain, the movie soon founders into a lot of silly shootouts. Keitel, still riding the waves of "Reservoir Dogs," could be the same Mr. Blue: tough, ruthless but basically honorable armed robber drawn into a caper by his younger brother.

And when I tell you the younger brother, all in black, behind two days' of scruffy beard and a pair of Revo sunglasses is Tim Hutton (!) maybe you'll guffaw as loudly as I did. Tim Hutton? The ultra-sensitive, poetic young feller who suffers so radiantly in most of his films, with a sawed-off and a Beretta, whacking bystanders and screaming in a saliva-drenched blast of profanity? What would Robert Redford say?

But the movie stumbles a lot. I didn't like the way, for example, Dorff's character has loose alliances with black and Asian gangs, so at the drop of a dime, whole crews of anonymous men of color can be pulled from the ground like the children of the dragon's teeth, and offered up to Keitel's .45. (Which, incidentally, may be the same pistol Al Pacino carried in "Heat"; it's a distinctive Colt Officer's Model with ivory grips. And remember, you read it here first.)

Keitel is so of-the-earth he seems like a Russian peasant who fought at Stalingrad barefoot for the entire winter of 1941. He's believable. But his quasi-romantic linkage with Famke Janssen never is. A former Bond girl and supermodel, her spin as a punk Hispanic thief's wife is never less than comic. Darn those punks! They end up with all the supermodels!

"City of Industry" most represents an outsider's attempt to mine the Tarantino lode. Director John Irvin, a Brit who's been around so long his great movie was "Hamburger Hill," is trying to feed off the voltage Tarantino hot wired into film culture. Somehow, though, he's connecting dots, not telling stories. It doesn't seem passionately felt, only loud.

'City of Industry'

Starring Harvey Keitel, Stephen Dorff and Tim Hutton

Directed by John Irvin

Rated R (violence, profanity)

Sun score **

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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