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Review: 'Love Walked In' boasts music but no melody

Graphic March 4, 1998
Web posted at: 11:18 p.m. EST (0418 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- "Go Figure," Volume 152: The strange case of actor Denis Leary.

When he's on stage delivering his heated comic monologues, Leary is as good as stand-up currently gets. He's never pulled a punch in his life (it's not without reason that his new CD is called "Lock and Load"), and his decidedly non-PC takes on subjects ranging from Starbucks coffee to The Lord of the Dance are caustic enough to get you laughing while you simultaneously grimace from witnessing the sucker punch.

Put him in a movie, though, and things just fizzle down to nothing.

There are quick moments in his latest film, the poorly scripted "Love Walked In," in which you think Leary will finally get a chance to cut loose on screen. But, unlike Barry Levinson did with the comparably problematic Robin Williams in "Good Morning Vietnam," director Juan Campanella doesn't let things continue at the much-welcome coffee-and-cigarettes-induced pace.

This is supposed to be a film noir, and Leary, very much his own man when performing at peak urgency, simply doesn't wear a genre very well.

He couldn't pull off the lame Tarantino-isms in "Underworld" (who could have?) and the less said about the so-called romantic comedy of "Two If By Sea," the better. The guy should be ripping tired conventions to shreds, not trying to co-opt his own brilliance to sustain them. Leary is born to mock, and he should be allowed to do so. With each new movie he's becoming more and more like the gun that gets carried on stage but never gets fired.

In "Love Walked In," he's Jack Hanaway, a never-been piano player/mystery writer who performs a show of 1930s and '40s standards with his chanteuse wife, competently embodied by the to-die-for Aitana Sanchez-Gijon.

The good stuff that I've already mentioned takes place when Jack, fed up with his role as second banana to a second banana, grinds his well-heeled resort audience into a powder with his acerbic, Leary-esque stage banter. He absolutely hates 'em, but will grudgingly accept their money in lieu of starving to death. Then the wife comes out, singing and slinking around like there's no tomorrow.

The act (or, at least the slinking around part) soon draws the attention of Fred Moore, a local multi-millionaire played by Terence Stamp. Stamp, just like he did in last year's formidably terrible "Bliss," doesn't really give a performance so much as he wears tailored shirts and elegantly crosses his legs. He also arches his eyebrow.

Fred admits to having married his aging wife for her money, and when an old private detective buddy of Leary's (Michael Badalucco) shows up on the scene, the stage is set for a not altogether interesting blackmail plot.

The idea is for Sanchez-Gijon to watusi Stamp into a compromising position while Leary and Badalucco take pictures of the hanky-panky. Then they'll squeeze Mr. Elegance for a chunk of payoff cash.

All of this is intercut, for some unknown reason, with sequences depicting Jack's mystery novel in progress. The novel has to do with the evil impulses of a good guy who finds himself being influenced by a dark, mysterious cousin. These little inserts are nearly dumbfounding. The story (representing Jack's supposedly insightful writing) isn't very good, and the action is as unexciting as the action involving the blackmail plot.

I think the real point is to get Leary doing some voice-overs while we watch the story unfold, for the simple reason that you're supposed to have voice-overs in a film noir. Too bad they're not written by Billy Wilder.

It all turns into one big, unbelievable mess, with no tension and not a glimmer of the sly wit these things require. It's just exasperating, really.

Leary needs to sit down with an experienced (and talented) screenwriter and put together something that's more closely based on his stage persona. I get the feeling he thinks he'd be surrendering if he did this too blatantly, but, if you've got a good, charismatic thing going, run with it.

A couple more movies along the route he's been traveling, and he'll lucky if anybody will let him carry a spear in a Tarzan movie.

"Love Walked In" contains a little bit of violence, and a naughty sex scene between Leary and Sanchez-Gijon. There's just a glimpse of nudity in the movie, but Sanchez-Gijon creates the illusion that she's undressing even while she's just standing there. Rated R. 90 minutes.

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