An attention-getting lesbians-vs.-the-mob hook merely serves as a disguise for what is just another designer thriller in "Bound," a notably unpalatable and calculated crime piece. Novelty of having two sultry babes hook up with each other while pulling a fast one on some mobsters wears thin before becoming ludicrously contrived.

An attention-getting lesbians-vs.-the-mob hook merely serves as a disguise for what is just another designer thriller in “Bound,” a notably unpalatable and calculated crime piece. Novelty of having two sultry babes hook up with each other while pulling a fast one on some mobsters wears thin before becoming ludicrously contrived. Debuting writer-directors Larry and Andy Wachowski come off like Coen brothers wannabes with no sense of humor. Sapphic angle will arouse some curiosity and want-see in certain circles, but this is otherwise a low-end gangster meller that doesn’t look to travel far when Gramercy releases it in August.

From the grandiose opening onward, it is clear the Wachowskis are determined to announce their arrival as major stylists, as they lay on the elaborate camera moves, overhead shots, deep shadows and portentous music. But it soon becomes apparent that while they may be clever with a premise, their senses of drama, logic and character have no more depth than a storyboard.

Ground-setting is rather intriguing, as two dark-haired girls in leather give each other some heavy eyeballing. Corky (Gina Gershon), a tattooed hardbody with a ’63 Chevy truck who would look right at home up a telephone pole, is fixing up an apartment after serving five years for robbery. Next door live the alluring Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and crude midlevel gangster Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), who specializes in money-laundering.

Soon Violet is offering to show Corky her own tattoo, and once they dive into a relationship, Violet lets on that she’s looking for a way out of her mob lifestyle, which entails sleeping with other tough-talking creeps.

Up to this point, pic holds at least some potential as a fresh take on standard underworld fare. But then the focus shifts to Caesar, whom Pantoliano plays as if trying to outdo Richard Widmark’s cackling cretin in the original “Kiss of Death.” After goons gruesomely torture another lowlife in order to retrieve some filched mob money, Caesar becomes unglued when the $ 2 million suddenly disappears, thanks to a scheme hatched by the femme lovers. Remainder of the story involves a series of confrontations stemming from Caesar’s resourceful countermoves to recover the loot and figure out who betrayed him.

All characters in the story, including the two women, are willing criminals who exist on the same bankrupt moral level. All are scum, and just because Violet and Corky fall for each other doesn’t mean they somehow fall into a privileged state of grace in which vile behavior can be forgiven. So fundamentally unbelievable and unsympathetic is their romantic and criminal collaboration that one’s sympathy eventually swings back toward the temperamental Caesar simply because he proves the smartest person onscreen.

The Wachowskis’ stylistic overkill is best exemplified by a ridiculous tracking shot of a phone cord in which the camera does little curlicues to trace the precise pattern of the wire. Numerous other effects are nearly as pretentious and eager to impress, resulting in what is basically a small exploitation film told with heavy-handed techniques.

Gershon and Tilly are initially intriguing but can’t sustain interest in their superficially conceived roles. They share one passionate scene, which is covered in a single take. Most of the other perfs are over-the-top to varying degrees. Behind-the-scenes personnel capably delivered what was asked, which was far too much for the material.

Bound

Production

A Gramercy release of a Dino De Laurentiis presentation in association with Spelling Prods. Produced by Andrew Lazar, Stuart Boros. Executive producers, Larry and Andy Wachowski. Co-producer, Jeffrey Sudzin. Directed, written by Larry and Andy Wachowski.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Bill Pope; editor, Zach Staenberg; music, Don Davis; production design, Eve Cauley; art direction, Robert Goldstein, Andrea Dopaso; set design, Harry E. Otto; set decoration, Kristen Toscano Messina; costume design, Lizzy Gardiner; sound (Dolby), Felipe Borrero; assistant director, Rip Murray; casting, Nancy Foy. Reviewed at Sony Studios, Culver City, Jan. 10, 1996. (In Sundance Film Festival -- premiere.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 107 min.

With

Violet - Jennifer Tilly
Corky - Gina Gershon
Caesar - Joe Pantoliano
Shelly - Barry Kivel
Johnnie Marconi - Christopher Meloni
Mickey Malnato - John P. Ryan
Lou - Peter Spellos
Gino Marconi - Richard C. Sarafian
Bartender - Mary Mara
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