Not so much an homage to film noir as it is an exercise in hollow style, Dark Streets is almost maddeningly inert. It's certainly more frustrating than a flat-out bad movie, since it boasts a moody visual flair that stems from genuine affection for the noir formula. Ultimately, however, it is all hat, no cattle -- or perhaps "all fedora, no fatalism" would be a more appropriate phrase.
If nothing else, director Rachel Samuels and cinematographer Sharone Meir ladle on the atmospherics of its 1930s time period, but such artifice comes at the expense of a compelling story. Squint past the pea-green fog, smoke-filled interiors and gleaming art deco trappings that characterize much of the film's look, and Dark Streets is conspicuously bereft of intrigue.
At its center is Chaz Davenport (Gabriel Mann), a blandly handsome young man whose recently deceased father ran the local power company. Now Chaz, whose chief personality trait appears to be that he has a mustache and likes the dames, is struggling to make a go of it as a nightclub owner. But goons who evidently have a beef with the elder Davenport terrorize him. Chaz is rescued from one such thug by a shadowy police lieutenant (Elias Koteas) who correctly surmises that Chaz is in trouble with mobsters. "You must be clairvoyant," snorts Chaz. "No, Methodist," deadpans the cop, in one of the film's few stabs at humor. The lieutenant then introduces Chaz to a sexy chanteuse, Madelaine Bondurant (Izabella Miko), and the nightclub owner is immediately smitten.
Anchored by the overwrought voiceover narration of a nightclub performer (Toledo Diamond) with an anachronistic mohawk, Dark Streets quickly devolves into contrived mystery. Did Chaz's father die by his own hand, as is the official story, or did he fall victim to foul play? And did the old man have anything to do with the periodic blackouts plaguing the unnamed city?
Wallace King's screenplay doesn't waste time trifling with subtlety. This is the sort of narrative in which our hero has the good fortune of coming across loose-tongued characters at the exact moment he needs enough information to lead him to the next scene. And the dialogue is so self-consciously hard-boiled, it's more likely to induce chortles than chills.
The clunky script gets no help from the cast. Mann is an adequate actor, perhaps, but he doesn't register much as a screen presence - nor, granted, does he have much to work with here. Faring slightly better are Miko, who bears a striking resemblance to a young Michelle Pfeiffer, and Bijou Phillips as a torch singer carrying a torch for Chaz.
Phillips, incidentally, is one of a handful of recording artists who supply original songs for the film. It's an impressive group that includes the likes of Aaron Neville, Dr. John and Solomon Burke, but such musical talent is not enough to keep Dark Streets on the straight and narrow.
Presented in 1:85.1 anamorphic widescreen, the DVD is a fine print transfer with well-saturated colors and realistic skin tones. The visuals can be a bit soft, but that appears to be by design.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix crackles and gets modest use of rear speaker action Optional subtitles are in English.
A commentary with Samuels, Mann and Diamond is chatty and pleasant, and made me wish I'd enjoyed the movie more. Samuels notes that the film is intended as a sort of dying man's fever dream. Interesting -- I didn't get that from the picture at all. Eleven deleted and alternate scenes can be viewed separately or consecutively. The scenes are of mild interest and have a total running time just shy of 10 minutes.
Also included are previews for Fireflies in the Garden, The Informers, The Human Contract, Cadillac Records, What Goes Up, Fragments, Elegy, Assassination of a High School President, The Fall, Obsessed, Waltz with Bashir, 12, What Doesn't Kill You, Paris 36, Vinyan, Nothing but the Truth, The Lodger and The Shield (Seasons 1-7) .
Dark Streets is a modern-day noir homage, but its ample visual style hardly compensates for a clunky narrative, eye-rolling dialogue and characters who are all archetype and no heart.