A blood-soaked and aggressively off-putting tale of a man’s struggle for redemption and forgiveness, “Bad City Blues” forces the viewer to stew in some very unsavory juices far more than anyone will want to do. Mostly well over the top yet possessed of a certain weight, first feature by Michael Stevens is clearly influenced by Scorsese, Welles and Huston, but is curiously most reminiscent of Michael Cimino in its brooding sensibility, overwrought violence and intense male interaction. Strenuously elaborated and essentially implausible investigation into the mysterious link between an immoral criminal and a Good Samaritan doctor has little commercial potential, although it features some intermittently forceful moments, an imposing performance by Michael McGrady and a sulfurous atmosphere that lingers in the mind.
Adapted by English writer Tim Willocks from his own 1991 novel, yarn intertwines four main story thrusts and several time frames that all spin off from a bloody bank robbery. Badly injured girlfriend Callilou (Judith Hoag) of the homicidal ringleader Luther (Jim Metzler) seeks help from Eugene Grimes (Michael Massee), a generous-spirited doctor who lives among the destitute in the worst part of New Orleans.
After killing Callilou’s banker husband (Dennis Hopper), staggeringly corrupt but charismatic Vice Squad Capt. Clarence Jefferson (McGrady) attempts to move in on the robbers by putting the squeeze on Eugene; pic’s middle section is mostly devoted to the cop’s on-and-off torture of a decent man who’s tormented by a twisted connection to Luther that is only eventually disclosed via Central American-set flashbacks.
Having been delayed far more than necessary by Eugene’s high-minded reluctance to “betray” the despicable Luther, pic’s strands come together when Eugene, Clarence and the hitherto unpaid robbery team all converge upon Luther’s hideout, but they quickly become unglued in a bloodbath that ridiculously sees more than one villain superhumanly rise from the dead after having been riddled with bullets.
Ending is freighted with moral considerations that speak to a possibly genuine regard for spiritually enlightened forgiveness — matters that only can be viewed with some skepticism given the gruesome wallow that characterizes most of the film.
Looking like a bulky William Hurt, the towering McGrady steals the picture with a portrait of self-justifying career corruption that unavoidably recalls Welles’ Hank Quinlan in “Touch of Evil.” Looking like two peas in a pod, Massee and Metzler are both arresting in a B movie sort of way.
Thanks in good measure to Zoran Popovic’s gleaming lensing of seedy locales and Ioannis Papadopoulos’ resourceful art direction, look is pro on this initial outing by the son of TV producer-longtime American Film Institute topper George Stevens Jr. and the grandson of the celebrated late director. Highly varied score and song selections make for over-busy but sometimes piercingly effective musical background.