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The House on Turk Street

Having tackled James M. Cain with "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and Raymond Chandler with "Poodle Springs," Bob Rafelson completes the troika of classic American crime writers with an adaptation of the Dashiell Hammett story, "The House on Turk Street."

Having tackled James M. Cain with “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and Raymond Chandler with “Poodle Springs,” Bob Rafelson completes the troika of classic American crime writers with an adaptation of the Dashiell Hammett story, “The House on Turk Street.” Serviceable and smoothly executed but somewhat hollow, the unsatisfyingly scripted thriller never quite cranks up enough sexual chemistry or complicity between the leads to give it real body. Released in Italy to modest gains after premiering at this summer’s Moscow Film Festival, the crime pic looks more suited to home entertainment than theatrical addresses.

While neither film had major commercial muscle, Rafelson’s fascination with contemporary noirs yielded edgier results with “Black Widow” and “Blood and Wine,” both of which were helped by more incisively drawn characters, tighter plotting and an invigorating mean streak.

Screenwriters Christopher Canaan and Steve Barancik update Hammett’s story to the present, throwing in some computer technology to contemporize the $10 million bank robbery that serves as the driving force behind a tale about a dysfunctional crime family and an auto theft cop in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Implored by a neighbor to bring home her runaway daughter, diabetic cop Jack Friar (Samuel L. Jackson) postpones his departure to play cello in a music festival and heads for Turk Street, where the missing girl is shacked up.

He stumbles by chance onto the lair of ace bank robber Tyrone (Stellan Skarsgard), his sultry plaything Erin (Milla Jovovich) and Hoop (Doug Hutchison), a hotheaded dolt who behaves like a resentful son toward Tyrone. The group’s suburban hideout is fronted by a seemingly innocuous elderly couple, the Quarres (Joss Ackland, Grace Zabriskie).

As the robbery preparations accelerate, Erin quietly plays Tyrone and Hoop off against each other, while at the same time stringing along David (Jonathan Higgins), the team’s inside man at the bank. She also warms to Jack, tied to a chair as he observes the friction within the band.

Left alone to watch the cop while her cohorts hit the bank, Erin panics when Jack slips into a diabetic coma. She drives to his house for an insulin kit, inexplicably picking up his cello while she’s there. A few smoldering glances later, she unties him for a sensual cello lesson. Lack of groundwork for both the sexual frisson and character motivation here is just one area in which the cogs of Canaan and Barancik’s script could use some oil.

The robbery comes off as planned until David refuses to give up the password-protected disk containing vital bank transfer data unless he sees Erin. Hoop’s violent response represents a further hiccup, while Erin’s apparent loyalty to her crime partners and her romantic-protective instincts toward the cop keep all three men on their toes as they head for the Canadian border.

Bound and immobile for much of the action, Jackson brings his usual cool authority while inevitably remaining slightly subdued. Introduced swatting a fly with a spike-heeled shoe, Jovovich plays it smart and sexy but never quite gets into the spirit of the classic noir vamp enough to put across the idea of Erin as both little girl lost and cunning manipulator.

Skarsgard’s icy, gravel-voiced turn has arrogance but not much real menace, undersold in the final act by some stupid moves from a supposedly shrewd character, while Hutchison (“The Green Mile”) makes a volatile psychotic and Zabriskie and Ackland have fun playing sweet oldsters with criminal leanings.

Action is moderately suspenseful, directed by Rafelson with customary efficiency and shot in moody, shadowy tones. But ultimately, the operation feels like a disappointingly anonymous retread of standard genre material.

Pic was released in Italy under its original working title, “No Good Deed.”

The House on Turk Street

  • Production: A CDI Compagnia Distribuzione Internazionale-Medusa Film release (Italy) of a Peter Hoffman presentation of a Remstar (Canada)/Seven Arts (U.S.)/ApolloMedia (Germany) production. Produced by Sam Perlmutter, David Braun, Maxime Remillard, Andre Rouleau, Herb Nanas, Barry Berg. Executive producers, Julien Remillard, David E. Allen, Frank Hubner, Jan Fantl. Directed by Bob Rafelson. Screenplay, Christopher Canaan, Steve Barancik, based on the story by Dashiell Hammett.
  • Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Juan Ruiz-Anchia; editor, William Scharf; music, Jeff Beal; production designer, Paul Peters; art director, Jean-Andre Carriere; set decorator, Susan MacQuarrie; costume designer, Mary Claire Hannan; sound (Dolby Digital), Sylvain Arsenault; line producer, Michel Siry; associate producer, Matthew Keene Smith; assistant director, Don Terry; casting, Victoria Burrows, Scott Boland. Reviewed at CDI screening room, Rome, Oct. 29, 2002. Running time: 103 MIN.
  • With: Jack Friar - Samuel L. Jackson Erin - Milla Jovovich Tyrone - Stellan Skarsgard Hoop - Doug Hutchison Mr. Quarre - Joss Ackland Mrs. Quarre - Grace Zabriskie David Brewster - Jonathan Higgins