Joe Eszterhas truly was a lark in Hollywood. As a writer he demonstrated a keen versatility early on, jumping from the feel good drama of his first script, Flashdance, to the twisty thrills of his fine follow up, Jagged Edge. Throughout the rest of the eighties he spent time carving out a niche of quality stories that served the material more than any egocentric auteur ideal. He could bring in the bank just as well as he could bring in critical praise with his last film of the eighties, the Academy Award nominated Music Box. All that changed with his next film, whose phenomenon would both pigeonhole the once versatile writer, and make him a shitload of Hollywood cash.
Basic Instinct uncrossed its legs in 1992, Eszterhasí first film of the decade, and after the serious scrill it brought him and Verhoeven, he found himself following it up with similarly pulpy erotica. Next came another voyeuristic Sharon Stone thriller, Sliver, and soon after the infamous Showgirls. Hell, even the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle, Nowhere to Run, has JCVD doing the peeping tom routine on a showering Rosanne Arquette before deciding to save her family from an oil tycoon. Eszterhas became a slave to the skin, his stamp for skinimax-level erotica superseding his once artisan versatility. It worked well for him when he was on top, but when he crashed after the flop of Showgirls, it basically carved him out of the business. Heíd win the Razzie for that one, and then heíd win it a few years later with his final Fuck You to Hollywood, the troubled An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn.
But before Smithee there was still hope that Eszterhas would rebound. Maybe it was the NC-17 rating. Elizabeth Berkley. Who knows, but you canít hit a home run every time up to bat. So it was all in his next film to prove that Eszterhas could still deliver. Instead of successfully straddling genre as he had done in the eighties, Eszterhas instead went right back to the formula that made him the most money Ė the sexy, trashy thriller. Thus came Jade a few short months after Showgirls, and it bombed even harder. Eszterhas would complain that Director William Friedkin destroyed his script, but he still cashed the check and took the sole screenwriting credit, so at the end of the day, it was his ass over anyone elses.
With the one two fall of Showgirls and Jade, the erotic thriller was officially impotent and tucked back into the annals of retired genres. Over the years, though, Showgirls has gone on to amass quite the cult following, and Basic Instinct still remains an iconic tentpole of the sensationalist early nineties. So hey, what about Jade? Itís been long out of print on DVD, but Lionsgate has rescued the film from Paramount pass over and have issued a schmaltzy new Blu-ray in its place. Fifteen years later, can Eszterhas be redeemed? And whatís with all that pubic hair?
The film begins with an elegant steadicam through the house of the affluent. We see several exotic art pieces, golden curtains and royal amber hues. On the surface, everything looks fine, but faintly on the audio we hear struggle, conflict. Things come to a boiling point when the camera nears the bedroom, fixating on a tribal mask. Lust and power seems to have converged, and the scene ends when the steadicam finds a pool of blood on the floor. A few hours later the D.A. is inside investigating, and thereís some definite foul play afoot. The victim was a millionaire art dealer, found naked, hanging and gutted by one of his own art pieces. He had collections of pubic hair in small silver cases with engravings of all the prostitutes he had taken home. During death he had also apparently been voluntarily wearing a rustic fertility mask Ė so in other words, this is a case that wonít be ending any time soon. On the case is David Corelli (David Caruso) along with right hand man Bob Hargrove (Michael Fucking Biehn), and theyíll solve this case, even if it means going down some dark corridors of desire.
Thereíll be sex, alright. Corelliís ex, Trina Gavin (Linda Fiorentino, The Last Seduction, After Hours) is in a tame but sexually charged relationship with her husband, big dice lawyer Matt Gavin (Chazz Palminteri, Diabolique). They have sex, but she doesnít seem to like it all that much Ė traditional positions with a lack of passion. Her tears during sex, and the fact that he gets a BJ while talking to her long distance on the phone are only two indicators that the relationship is starting to run dry. David would like nothing more than to intervene and claim back the woman who got away, but heís got a case to solve, so back into his pants his little Horatio Caine goes. His case picks up when one of the pubic containers has a Chinese engraving that catches his eye. It means ďJadeĒ an old Chinese expert (played of course by Big Trouble in Little Chinaís Victor Wong) tells him. Who is Jade, and can she help David solve the case?
David canít track down this elusive Jade, but he does find high class hooker Patrice Jacinto (Angie Everhart, Bordello of Blood) when she turns up in some hush hush photos with the California governor (an acid spitting Richard Crenna). Apparently Jade was the one all her clients wanted Ė not afraid to take it from behind and to indulge the most peculiar of male fantasies. Before David can ask any more questions Patrice is run over right before his eyes, initiating a car chase that gets him even more involved in this twisty plot. Things get further complicated when Trina admits to having seen the dead art collector hours before his death. Sheís now a key suspect, but what about Jade? Her desire holds the secret.
I just wrote three long paragraphs of synopsis and I only feel Iíve scratched the surface in this convoluted murder mystery. Eszterhasís script seems more infatuated with the trash than it does the sense, worrying about cramming in taboo sexual perversions and gory aftermath more than it does with the reasons why theyíre there. Going back to that pubic hair in the engraved case bit. So the guy has a collection of about ten of these things, so how is it that David zeroes in on Jadeís? Were her dark curls of greater fortitude compared to the others? We donít know why he chose it, but it just happens to be the right one. Another case of the parts being wholly different than the sum Ė thereís a kinky sex scene later on during the pivotal finale with a character never mentioned before or after. Itís just there to titillate, and thatís what Eszterhas is after. Heís quantifying pleasure, but heís hardly telling a story.
Friedkin, on the other hand, is interested in making what seems to be a completely different mystery. Heís moving his camera all about, eating up the architecture and opulence instead of zeroing in on these elusively drawn characters. As a result we donít care about how any of them turn out, but instead we care about how Friedkin presents it to us. At its core the film concerns itself with one of Friedkinís most enduring thematic preoccupations Ė the idea of sexuality infusing identity. Like the sexually conflicted leads in Cruising, Bug and To Live and Die in L.A., Trina is defined here by both the academic front she presents in public and the sexual proclivities she exhibits in the bedroom. Is she the thoughts she thinks or the passions she desires? Friedkin has fun exploring this through mise en scene, with a fascination for the surface of things Ė masks, statues, tinted cars and dragon head parades. Every surface has a secret, and Friedkin does a classy, stylish job of exploring that, setting up the erotic, exotic final reveal. It all feels like foreplay, though, before Friedkin gets to the goods, and the film stops just when itís starting to take off. He ended Cruising and To Live and Die in L.A. with the sexual duality of a stare in the mirror, so why should we expect this to end any different?
It should also come as no surprise to fans of the Friedkin that the film detours greatly in the second act to a virtuoso car chase. Friedkinís proved master of this with The French Connection and To Live and Die in L.A. and hell, the criminally underrated Sorcerer is essentially one long grinding car chase itself. It sort of spontaneously erupts here in Jade, but again it leaves an impression. Working with his themes of surfaces cloaking reality, the whole chase is setup with David chasing down an unknown in a shiny black car. Hell, it may as well just say on the car ďI Represent The IdĒ. The fact that they go through a Chinese parade with everyone all done up and dancing in masks furthers Friedkinís themes of disguise. But what Iíve always liked about Friedkinís films is the organic immediacy they seem to have. The camera is usually moving, either in steadi here or handheld in The French Connection, itself a major participant in the story. Here we even get bouts of first person to further intwine us into a sexualized story that would otherwise be outlandish escapism. Little scenes Ė like an exchange during a racquetball game donít necessarily further character, but they further place. They give the film a breathing reality, something that ties back to Friedkinís roots as a documentarian. Even when Jade starts getting into some crazy sexual perversion, itís always got that attachment to reality that Friedkin works in through a calculated use of setting and surroundings. As a directorial showpiece, Jade represents Friedkin once again in solid form.
Unfortunately, itís as if Friedkin was more devoted to himself than he was the film. We see his themes, and we see them executed well, but often at the expense of the story and more crucially the characters. A grand cast of solid character actors is virtually wasted in Friedkinís aforementioned infatuation with the surface of objects rather than the people behind them. Fiorentino is stilted and unconvincing as the seductress at the heart of everyoneís actions. She seems so disinterested in everything, even the highly touted sex scenes, that youíd think she could just kill people out of boredom rather than using all those rustic art pieces. The always engaging Michael Biehn, who Friedkin had directed well previously in Rampage, is sadly also underused. Considering how awesome his mustache is here, such oversight is almost unforgiveable. Aside from a few good zingers (ďCristal, Baluga, Wolfgang PuckÖitís a fuckhouse.Ē) even Caruso seems pretty lost and overwhelmed by both the convoluted plot and Friedkinís stylish visual approach. Chazz Palminteri? Heís just a big glorified red herring that pops in whenever the script needs a few question marks. An actor piece, it ainít.
Still, Jade shines as a dark, mature thriller that descends without compromise into adult themes with nary a breath for air. James Hornerís score sets a twisty, brooding tone and Friedkin has fun infusing it with a cool calculated style. Those looking for the Eszterhas touch that defined his better scripts should look elsewhere. He was only in it for the cash, evidenced by the fact that he signed a document vouching for Friedkin as director (to avoid potential nepotism claims since his wife, Sherry Lansing, was the big brass at the bankrolling Paramount) despite the fact that he never felt Friedkin would do the film justice. Ironically enough, itís Friedkinís recurring themes and style that keeps this convoluted clunker afloat. This marked the end of the dirty sexy thriller, but considering how tepid and tame most thrillers are these days you almost wish theyíd bring it back.
Jadeís a good looking movie, and this AVC-encoded 1080p transfer certainly tries to do it justice with decent bitrate allocation. Problem is, though, this movie really looks like it was freshly dug up from 1995, with a muddy grain throughout. The grain impedes any sort of window-like clarity, although there are scenes that exhibit noticeable sharpness. Still, there are too many dancing pixels, and it gets even worse for the overly dark finale, where the grain turns into underexposed blue noise. Yuck. The print itself is pretty clean with only the occasional speck, and for the most part colors prove fairly vivid. Thereís definitely a lot of green in the film, and it comes through strongest of all. Itís a transfer that certainly looks of its time, but overall the Blu-ray does offer an improved visual experience compared to the 11-year old out of print DVD.
While the picture isnít totally flattering, the DTS 5.1 Master Audio certainly is. This is a very solid track with an aggressive use of the rear surrounds for ambient effects. Whether itís the echoes in a large church reverberating from speaker to speaker or screeching tires in the car chase, the back gets a refreshing workout. Dialogue is still kept conservatively locked to the front, but at least it is clean if not quite as rich as all those matrixed effects. Hornerís brooding score comes through well , and overall the track is more than a pleasant surprise.
Remember how the special edition of Basic Instinct came with a mini ice pick? How cool would it have been if Lionsgate issued this Blu-ray with a collectable silver container filled with pubic hair? Not very cool? Yeah, youíre right, and thatís probably why we donít have any extras of note on this release. Only the murky, smutty trailer is included. Itís a shame, since Iím sure Friedkin or Eszterhas would have a lot to say about the film, both flattering and non. That will have to wait for another time, unfortunately. It should also be noted that this is the theatrical cut of the film. Back in the days of VHS, the film was released in an unrated directorís cut featuring a full 12-minutes of additional footage. Some of that included more explicit sex scenes, while the majority was added dialogue scenes and an alternate ending. As deleted scenes or as an alternate cut, they would have made a fine addition to the disc, but alas the disc is a lot more bare than Fiorentino is throughout the film.
As a narrative, Jade is a murky mess, but William Friedkin injects a dark energy into every corner that makes it tough to turn away. The car chase is sensational, as are, literally, all that trashy sex scenarios, and Friedkin is able to give them all a raw realism that makes them seem somehow plausible. The image quality isnít quite as muddled as that recovered sex tape in the film, but itís far from perfect. The sound, though, is a real surprise, making very active use of the rears for effects and ambiance. Considering the film was released at one point 11-minutes longer and uncut on VHS, itís a major disappointment that this Blu-ray is without any extras other than a trailer. Considering how vocal Friedkin and Eszterhas have been about their careers, and this film in particular, the fact that neither are included on any extras is an even bigger disappointment. Really, all the makings are there for a killer special edition, hopefully Lionsgate chooses to take advantage of this rare opportunity to license some Paramount product (as theyíve done with My Bloody Valentine and The Relic) by re-releasing this in the uncut special edition the film probably doesnít deserve. Still, even barebones, this is good trash. Spread it and bed it, but Jadeís probably not the kind of girl you want to have stick around afterwards.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
I saw this in the theater,not a great film but I didn't hate it either.Some scenes feel a bit like an Italian Giallo,the smooth camera work gliding into scenes of violence.The cast is game though the plot is pulpy.From the heydey of erotic thrillers,it's neither as bad as some critics hailed it nor as good as it could have been.Another odd credit for Friedkin's filmography.
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