Storyville has a little trouble getting its story straight. A teeming cesspool of illicit sex, murder, suicide, family intrigue and political chicanery in exotic Louisiana, this would-be Chinatown is so overloaded with outrageous implausibilities that the temptation is very strong to consider it all a joke.
In his first big-screen direction, Mark Frost, a key force behind Hill Street Blues and David Lynch’s partner on Twin Peaks for TV, has taken an Australian novel [Juryman by Frank Galbally and Robert Macklin] and relocated it in New Orleans, where just about anything goes.
James Spader plays Cray Fowler, a callow, good-looking kid trying to carry his rich, corrupt family’s tradition of political service into a third generation. Encouraged by family patriarch Clifford Fowler (Jason Robards) in the old-boy-network school, Cray is divorcing his wife and seeking the support of black voters.
Cray is crazy enough to run off with the enticing Lee (Charlotte Lewis), a Vietnamese woman he’s barely met. He is obliged to fight her maniacal father, who mysteriously winds up dead. When Lee is charged with the murder, Cray astoundingly offers his services as defense attorney. Opposing him will be a prosecutor (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) who’s his old flame.
Cray does so many apparently stupid things, and the many jaw-dropping loopholes and long-shots in the first half make the film systematically unconvincing. Whalley-Kilmer and Lewis are attractive in functional parts, and Robards serves up an old-school blowhard to a fare-thee-well.