The blood and grunge run thick on the mean streets in “Romeo Is Bleeding.” This heavy dose of ultra-violent neo-noir gives Gary Oldman a face-first trip through the gutter that would make Mickey Rourke drool, but the far-fetched plotting eventually goes so far over the top that pic flirts with inventing a new genre of film noir camp. Gramercy release will find a cadre of devotees who will groove on the hot cast, high style and low-down macho fantasies, but more people will be turned off by the excessive gore and progressive facetiousness.
Perhaps the most interesting angle here is that the story represents a tough working man’s wet dream, and yet it was written by a woman. Determined to make it big financially, Oldman’s New York police sergeant does his job on the organized crimes task force while accepting payoffs from the mob.
He also has it both ways in the sack, knowing his lovely wife Annabella Sciorra awaits him at home while he makes time with sultry mistress Juliette Lewis.
But that’s before he meets Lena Olin, a member of a Moscow crime family, who has just been nabbed after wiping out some Feds and a government witness. Oldman is entrusted with guarding her at a safe house but she’s got him disarmed and sexually compromised before the Feds even arrive to pick her up.
As narrated in the third person by Oldman in traditional hard-boiled fashion, tale knots up considerably from there. Cultivated gangster Roy Scheider orders Oldman to eliminate Olin, who in turn offers Oldman six times as much money to let her flee the country but tell Scheider he’s killed her. Oldman takes Olin’s cash, but when the she-devil tries to kill him, all hell breaks loose, and pic flies into darkly absurdistterritory that finally gets grotesquely out of hand.
A scene of the two struggling in a car about to crash will have viewers laughing if they aren’t already, and other scenes, including the ultra-bloody climactic shootout, push matters further into silliness.
Ultimately, the prevailing impression is one of an unrestrained fantasy of perverse sex and violence. Screenwriter and co-producer Hilary Henkin has delivered some pungent dialogue, vivid characters and wild scenes, and director Peter Medak has responded by creating a stylishly warped environment for it all.
One of film’s prime motives would seem to be the creation of the most astoundingly, memorably vicious and sexy female villain in movie history, and who better than Olin to play her? With her deep, husky voice, hot bod and intimations of limitless depravity, she would convince anyone that she has already chewed up and spit out the men of one empire and is working on her second.
Oldman clearly has a taste for the wild side but outdoes himself as a self-deluding cop whose weakness for sex and money lets him tolerate no end of beatings, mutilations, humiliations and defeats.
Sciorra registers well as the wife at the end of her patience, while Lewis’ role is a throwaway.
Where style is substance, craft contributions are crucial, and all hands, notably lenser Dariusz Wolski, production designer Stuart Wurtzel, editor Walter Murch and composer Mark Isham, have made strong marks on the prevailing mood.