Review: ‘Art Deco Detective’

Arthur

Arthur

Decowitz … John Dennis Johnston

Hyena … Stephen McHattie

Jim Wexler … Brion James

Detective Guy Lean … Joe Santos

Julie/Meg Hudson … Rena Riffel

Irina Bordat … Sonia Cole

Lana Torrido … Max John-James

If you didn’t know the credits of director Philippe Mora, you’d think this intellectually pretentious, failed campy satire about the “crazy” state of the world was made by a novice. Though showing some facility for fast dialogue, this verbose pic — by the same helmer of “Communion,””Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf,””Howling III” and the upcoming ecological thriller “A Breed Apart”– is just eccentric. It lacks the zest, fun or disturbing provocation that one would expect from midnight fare. Short theatrical release is a warm-up en route to video.

Writer/helmer Mora concocts a potpourri that mixes elements of classic noir, international political thrillers and sex satires. At its center is Arthur Decowitz (John Dennis Johnston), nicknamed Art Deco, an aging, burnt-out detective in the mold of Raymond Chandler’s heroes, who becomes a pawn in an international scheme, motivated by conspiracy and paranoia that might even surprise Oliver Stone. Deco is set up as the fall guy in a CIA plan to trap Hyena (Stephen McHattie), a mad terrorist threatening to blow up L.A. and incriminate the Middle East.

Tale is somewhat leavened by Deco’s encounters with a gallery of zany, if stereotypical, characters: a sleazy British filmmaker, a Hollywood sex goddess, a Washington call girl, undercover agents, manipulative diplomats, and so on. Unfortunately, pic is too derivative in its recycling of noir conventions and types, including a subplot about twin sisters (played by Rena Riffel), one of whom is believed to be murdered.

Lenser Walter Bal, who years back worked on Truffaut’s films, keeps the camera close to the characters, as dialogue is the crucial element — and chief problem — in this film. There are probably no more than a dozen witty lines and a dozen moments that justify the film’s claim to being a relevant political satire. The rest is just mumbo jumbo.

Though it contains S&M sex and cross-dressing, “Art Deco” qualifies as camp in intent rather than execution. You keep hoping for pic, which ideally should have been a short, to pass into the realm of camp, but it stubbornly refuses.

Art Deco Detective

Production

A Trident Releasing Inc. release. Produced by Philippe Mora, Bruce Critchley. Directed, written by Mora.

Crew

Camera (Eastmancolor), Walter Bal; editor, Janet Wilcox-Morton; music, Allan Zavod; production design, Pamela Krause Mora; costume design, Sarah Hackett; sound (Dolby), Kermit Samples; associate producers, Jim and Laura Kirsner, Jen Lin, Joe Taetle; assistant director, Dan Allingham. Reviewed on videocassette, L.A., Sept. 1, 1994. Running time: 102 MIN.
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