Picks and Pans Review: Last Exit to Brooklyn

updated 05/21/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/21/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stephen Lang

Not since the Dodgers hightailed it for Los Angeles has Brooklyn been done so wrong.

First of all, this maxi-melodrama about the New York City borough in the 1950s has all the grim intensity, emotional squalor and heightened sense of self-importance of a Eugene O'Neill play, with none of O'Neill's insight or eloquence. Second, some of it was shot in Munich—as in West Germany—which is like making a movie about the Berlin Wall in Dubuque.

Interwoven plot lines follow a strike at a metalworks, a married man's descent into a transvestite-gay community and a prostitute's search for, well, it seems self-evident, but she's seeking men who'll give her lots of cash in return for sex. The script was adapted by Desmond Nakano from a 1964 book of stories that achieved notoriety because of the explicit sex they contained.

The author of that book, Hubert Selby Jr., has a bit part in this film as a cab driver, though he won't be recognized on the street, having been filmed mostly in the dark. In fact, director Uli (Christiane F.) Edel and director of photography Stefan (Vampire's Kiss) Czapsky seem intent on creating a whole new genre that might be called cinéma à la bottom of an inkwell.

Most of the film takes place inside dark rooms at night, and Leigh, who plays the hooker, is often lit so that her eyes are in total darkness, limiting her expressiveness to lip twitching.

Not that the cast needs handicaps. Leigh has long since proved herself, most recently in Miami Blues. Lang, who had a lead role on TV's Crime Story, is an established actor too. But in this film they turn in ludicrous performances. Lang, as a union steward who leaves his wife and baby for a flaming transvestite, simpers and frets apace. Leigh flounces, snaps off bitter lines and strikes hookery poses with abandon.

The supporting cast is also bad. New Orleans cabaret performer Zette, for instance, plays Lang's boyfriend in super-swishy fashion, hissing out such arch lines as "You could take me to the cinema if I happen to be in the mood."

Everyone is laden with symbols too. The hooker is named—hoo boy, how ironic—Tralala. A teenage boy who lusts after Leigh has fetish for an aviator's cap. Lang is beaten up by hoods and is last seen hung on a billboard scaffold in crucifixion-image mode.

All this slugs along for 103 minutes, with nary a glimpse of Robby, the Duke, Campy or Pee Wee. You'd think the least they could have done was find a place in Munich to build a ball park. As in: Ist das nicht ein Ebbets Field? Ja, das ist der Ebbets Field. (R)

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