Synopsis: Assistant D.A. David Corelli (David Caruso) is trapped between friendship and the law when the brutal murder of an important San Francisco millionaire points toward his former lover and college friend, Trina Gavin (Linda Fiorentino), a beautiful woman with a mysterious alter ego.
As details of the murder victim’s sexual escapades emerge, Corelli uncovers evidence that the victim was blackmailing a powerful politician with incriminating photographs. But as the crucial witnesses are systematically murdered and attempts on Corelli’s life are made, the case assumes a paranoid veneer in which nothing is certain and no one can be trusted.
Set against a backdrop of the immaculate mansions of the San Francisco wealthy with a decorative fetish for the ancient Far East and contrasted with a classic Friedkin chase scene through the city’s Chinatown, Jade is a lush, dark, and suspenseful sexual thriller from the writer of Basic Instinct that will keep the audience guessing until the very last scene.
eyelights: the muddy mystery. the crazy car chase.
eyesores: the weak dialogues. the cast’s lack of fire.
“The next time we make love, introduce me to Jade.”
I still remember when ‘Jade’ came out in 1995. It was touted as a star-making vehicle for David Caruso, who had recently dropped his extremely popular gig on ‘NYPD Blues’ to become a movie star. ‘Kiss of Death’, his first post-‘NYPD Blues’ movie, had just come out and totally tanked at the box office. There was a lot of pressure for this one to be a success.
It also tanked.
It not only utterly failed to recoup its budget, but it also garnered a couple of Razzie nominations along the way (notably for Caruso, who, ironically, was also nominated for ‘Kiss of Death’). It was a major disappointment for director William Fiedkin, whose career had been on downward spiral for years and who felt that it was possibly his best film ever.
It was also a final blow to Joe Eszterhas, who had made a splash with ‘Basic Instinct‘ (picking up a then-unprecedented 3 million dollar paycheque for it!) but then kept writing turkeys, with ‘Sliver‘ and ‘Showgirls‘ gradually destroying his reputation. His screenwriting career never recovered and, after a few more failure, fell off the map completely.
Adding insult to injury, Friedkin rewrote much of the script and ended up being nominated for a Razzie.
When I first saw it, after it was released on home video, I was bored to tears with it. I just couldn’t believe it had been made: the cast wasn’t compelling, the so-called mystery was built on just a few pathetic red herrings, the sexy bits felt contrived (and, ironically, weren’t sexy at all), and the action sequences were exaggerated to the point of complete absurdity.
I don’t know if I was expecting another ‘Basic Instinct’, which I was still watching semi-regularly at the time. Heck, I may not even have been aware of the connection back then. But it had none of its magic, even though they echoed each other: San Francisco, psychological thriller, violent murders, police procedural, romantic triangle, lesbianism, kinky sex, drugs, …etc.
But it ain’t no ‘Basic Instinct’.
For starters, there’s the matter of the cast. David Caruso is no Michael Douglas; he has no intensity and just limply goes from one scene to the other, staring blankly. And, as much as I think Linda Fiorentino delivered one of the best performances ever seen in ‘The Last Seduction‘, she’s totally miscast in the part of Katrina, as a sexy psychologist; she’s bland as hell.
The writing might be part of the problem, of course, and it’s certainly one of the weaknesses of ‘Jade’. Although ‘Basic Instinct’ had a few cheesy bits in it, the dialogues in ‘Jade’ immediately ring false; people simply don’t talk that way. Or it’s sloppy, like when David introduces himself to a suspect he’s about to interrogate – even though he’d arrested her earlier.
There’s even poor expository bits, like when David gets a briefing from his partner about where they’re going and who they’re visiting just as they’re about to enter the place. Um… so our hero was just tagging along obliviously? Is that it? And he had to be reminded just who this person was – somehow, in the last 24 hours, he’d forgotten her connection to the case?
This led to the picture’s first ridiculous chase, wherein David and his partner walk into a beauty parlour to interrogate a call girl: after they introduce themselves, she says “I’ll be with you in a minute” and turns away and runs. She doesn’t try to do it discretely – she just bolts right there and then. And, even though they were just a few feet from her, she outruns them.
In high heels.
Until they finally catch up, blocks later.
And then there’s the mother of all chases, which consists of David trying to catch the culprit of a brutal hit and run by rampaging through San Francisco for 10 minutes – through traffic, over hills, and even in a Chinatown street celebration. People get hurt, possibly killed, and there are no repercussions. Even being rammed into the pier doesn’t deserve a mention afterwards.
But, as bloody stupid and poorly edited as it is, it’s a thrill-a-second anyway. Friedkin, as anyone familiar with his oeuvre knows, is well-regarded as the filmmaker behind one of the greatest car chases ever, in ‘The French Connection’. Clearly this one doesn’t match his 1971 spectacle, but it’s exciting stuff anyway – if one can check one’s brain at the door, naturally.
And that’s the general feeling with ‘Jade’, that one has to not think about it much. Whereas ‘Basic Instinct’ gave the impression of a tight cat-and-mouse game, with us not knowing who the cat and who the mouse actually were, this one lays its cards down way too quickly and leaves very little to tease the brain; there are too few clues to keep us hooked throughout.
The one thing that I find most surprising about it, though, is how it tried to push the envelope by showing a fully naked woman without pubic hair (something that wasn’t done at the time), and that the plot revolves around a high society escort who performs anal sex – something that was still pretty uncommon at the time. Flash forward twenty years and it’s rather mundane.
And that’s the problem with any thriller whose thrills depend on titillation: it loses all of its potency over time as societal norms change, as we grow to accept more diversity. Unless a picture manages to stimulate one’s brain or emotions, it can’t possibly capture an audience and keep it tethered for the time it takes to eat a bag of popcorn – let alone over years.
‘Jade’ has its redeeming values, but it’s certainly not masterful cinema. It’s got some great shots (notably the long continuous take at the very start), the locations are eye-candy, and it’s intriguing, but it lacks thrills, sexiness and spark. In the end, it feels like the shadow of something that could have been memorable enough to warrant multiple viewings.
Unfortunately, as it is, it’s no gem.
Post scriptum: There’s apparently an Unrated director’s cut of the film with 12-minutes of extra footage to it. It was released on VHS back in the day, but has not been made available since. I’d be very curious to see if it’s a better film, or if it’s just a marketing ploy. Perhaps someday it’ll be issued on DVD or BD (although I doubt there’s much demand for it).
Date of viewing: August 30, 2015