“The Murder in China Basin” boasts all the trappings of neo-noir but never jells as compelling whodunit, its intended sizzle undone by two crucially unconvincing perfs and choppy storytelling that confounds more often than it intrigues. Still, there’s an impressive ambitiousness to L.A.-set tale of seduction and betrayal; erotic content and offbeat touches could help secure latenight cable berths and vid-bin action. Presence of Noel Harrison, performing a handful of original tunes, might be a further draw.
Down-and-out former cop Claire (a touching Elizabeth Rossa) finds purpose when her ex-husband, Steve (Chris Byrne), seeks her help. He’s the prime suspect in the murder of a wealthy, oddball piano man (Harrison), who practiced celibacy while his leggy wife, Allison (Jennifer Starr), practiced with everyone, particularly the hapless, broke Steve. Claire’s determination to vindicate Steve takes her — and the story — into ridiculously dark depths, with writer-director Norman Gerard tossing in every social ill known to contempo psychodrama. Polished package doesn’t quite transcend self-consciousness, and Byrne and Starr bring little more than looks to the material. But Harrison shines as the singing cuckold, and Derek Sitter a standout as Allison’s younger, sicker brother.