A crime movie that hides the big heist, a road movie sans acceleration, “Cold Around the Heart” offers heaps of neo-noir attitude without the requisite suspense or quirky characterizations. This debut feature by writer-director John Ridley, who scripted Oliver Stone’s “U-Turn,” opened Friday on a single Gotham screen as a pit stop before cable play and the video stacks.
Independently made Fox pickup opens in the getaway car of killers/lovers Ned (David Caruso) and Jude (Kelly Lynch) — “low-rent Bonnie and Clyde,” an associate helpfully dubs them — who have just snatched a quarter million worth of diamonds in a jewelry store holdup, leaving three dead bodies (although much talked about, this action is never shown, despite other flashback scenes to the time of the crime). Ned rolls out, or is pushed, from the speeding getaway vehicle and is captured, but soon escapes and vows revenge on his beloved.
After a drawn-out second act as the pair separately meander toward their fated rendezvous, action picks up in the final reel with an escalating series of double-crosses that leads to a climactic conflagration.
An incongruous element of social realism is added to this calculated concoction when Ned, freshly escaped and tracking down Jude, picks up black female hitchhiker Bec (Stacey Dash), who suddenly aims a gun at him while telling of her drunken father’s sexual abuse. Disarmed, Bec tags along for the rest of the story, snapping Polaroids like a character in an early Wim Wenders film. During the journey, Ned’s buddy Uncle Mike (John Spencer) tries to rape her, with grim consequences for him.
Neither shaggy-haired Caruso nor lanky blond Lynch bring much charisma or conviction to their roles, which are too sketchily written to offer motivation for their criminal partnership. Their one memorable trait is Jude’s habit of breaking out laughing over old sitcom jokes in the midst of making love. After her tough-girl opening scene, Dash’s Bec takes on a doe-caught-in-headlights innocence. Chris Noth as T, a grifter, and Pruitt Taylor Vince as Cokebottles, a bespectacled fence, provide some spark, as does Spencer, in noirish cameos.
Ridley and lenser Malik Hassan Sayeed aim to make up for thin characterization with slick visuals — moodily dark interiors, garish color tones, and off-center closeups. Editor Eric L. Beason keeps up a swift pace even when the characters sit around exchanging slack repartee.