A muddled mix of sex, political corruption and murder, "Jade" is a jigsaw puzzle that never puts all the pieces together. Pic could assemble some OK box office results for starters but figures to make a relatively quick trip to the semiprecious bin at video outlets.

A muddled mix of sex, political corruption and murder, “Jade” is a jigsaw puzzle that never puts all the pieces together. Pic could assemble some OK box office results for starters but figures to make a relatively quick trip to the semiprecious bin at video outlets.

Director William Friedkin and writer Joe Eszterhas have traveled these streets before, as has Linda Fiorentino in her latest take on a sexy femme fatale and David Caruso in his second so-so feature outing as a leading man after walking away from “NYPD Blue.” All of them have fared better in past vehicles, and this at-best adequate entry’s best moments tend to merely bring to mind similar scenes from more entertaining films.

“Jade” holds the audience’s attention for a while as a whodunnit but gradually loses steam as the script fails to flesh out its characters or their motivations, seemingly more intent (in recent Eszterhas fashion) on being provocative than on making sense.

Caruso plays David Corelli, a San Francisco prosecutor pulled away from a black-tie ball by word that a local millionaire has been brutally murdered. Gradually, some evidence begins to implicate Trina Gavin (Fiorentino), a clinical psychologist and former lover of Corelli’s who happens to be the wife of a high-powered defense attorney (Chazz Palminteri), one of the prosecutor’s closest friends.

Photos in the victim’s safe show the governor (Richard Crenna) in compromising positions with a prostitute, suggesting Trina may have been involved in kinky sex games with powerful men who, being blackmailed by the millionaire, might possess a motive for murder.

Unfortunately, Eszterhas’ screenplay never really connects these points, throwing them out for titillation value without bringing them together. It takes too long, for example, to get a sense of Corelli’s relationship with Trina and her husband, and even then it’s difficult to ascertain what’s going on. Clearer messages, subliminal or otherwise, would have been welcome.

Similarly, Friedkin’s direction focuses more on images than narrative, at times moving aimlessly between action scenes. “The French Connection” director does offer a good car chase in the “Bullitt” vein that inexplicably veers into a maddening slow-speed sequence through a crowded Chinese parade, perhaps exhibiting the undue influence of O.J. Simpson’s Bronco flight.

Along the same lines, the climactic sequence proves so murkily shot there’s scant suspense, as it’s difficult to keep track of who’s doing what to whom, and the ending is cryptic but largely unsatisfying.

Caruso shows a brief flash of his potential in a scene interrogating a suspect (model Angie Everhart) but is done a disservice by the material, which doesn’t provide any insight into the character — either in his awkward relationship with the Gavins or even whether he’s appalled by the corruption or merely views it as a political opportunity.

Fiorentino and Palminteri — after rave notices in “The Last Seduction” and “Bullets Over Broadway,” respectively — clearly have been shown off better in other recent roles. The best moments, in fact, belong to Ken King — a real-life S.F. police inspector drafted to play Corelli’s salty partner — and Donna Murphy, making her movie debut after appearing in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Passion” and TV series “Murder One.”

Tech credits are sound, particularly the lush production design, though James Horner’s score — in seeking to be eerie and evocative — proves intrusive and overbearing. Pic does makesthe most of its San Francisco locales.

Though “Jade” doesn’t measure up to the standards of the genre Eszterhas mined in “Jagged Edge” and “Basic Instinct,” it safely can make one claim: It’s better than “Showgirls.”

Jade

Production

A Paramount release of a Robert Evans and an Adelson/Baumgarten production. Produced by Robert Evans, Craig Baumgarten, Gary Adelson. Executive producer, William J. Macdonald. Co-producer, George Goodman. Directed by William Friedkin. Screenplay, Joe Eszterhas.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor; Deluxe prints), Andrzej Bartkowiak; editor, Augie Hess; music, James Horner; production design, Alex Tavoularis; art direction, Charles Breen; set design, Robert Goldstein, John Chichester; set decoration, Gary Fettis; costume design, Marilyn Vance; sound (Dolby), Kirk Francis; assistant director, Newt Arnold; stunt coordinator, Buddy Joe Hooker; casting, Ronnie Yeskel. Reviewed at the Bruin Theater, L.A., Oct. 11, 1995. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

David Corelli - David Caruso Trina Gavin - Linda Fiorentino Matt Gavin - Chazz Palminteri Bob Hargrove - Michael Biehn Gov. Edwards - Richard Crenna Karen Heller - Donna Murphy Petey Vasko - Ken King Bill Barrett - Holt McCallany Pat Callendar - David Hunt Patrice Jacinto - Angie Everhart D.A. Arnold Clifford - Kevin Tighe
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more