Friday December 5, 1997
"Cold Around the Heart" is lowdown, outrageous trashy fun, a nifty neo-noir/pursuit picture charged with a torrid love affair straight out of "Duel in the Sun."
We've seen what writer-director John Ridley serves up many times before, but he makes its familiarity a sit-back-and-relax pleasure while bringing to his picture a sharp-edged freshness and dimension. Such are the joys of genre done with panache that amusingly threaten to go right over the top.
Advertised as simply "Cold Heart" but still reading "Cold Around the Heart" on the screen and bearing a 1996 copyright, the movie opens strongly and never lets up.
A couple (David Caruso, Kelly Lynch) are zooming down a desert highway with a police car gaining on them when suddenly their passenger-side door flings open, leaving Caruso's Ned Tash sprawled on the highway, hauled off to a small-city hospital for treatment of minor injuries and facing charges of armed robbery of a jewelry store that left three people dead.
Ned escapes with comparative ease, determined to track down Lynch's Jude, who did the actual shooting, and made off with $250,000 in jewels. Consumed with revenge, he is obsessed with killing her, but as a pretty hitchhiker (Stacey Dash) tells him, he must love Jude very much to be so determined to waste her.
While Ned and Dash's Beck, running away from a sexually abusive father, commence developing a wary mutual trust and respect, Jude, laying low, enlists the aid of a seemingly thickheaded guy she picks up in a bar (Chris Noth, in a sly portrayal) to protect her when Ned catches up to her with an inevitability that occurs more often in the movies than in real life. (Ridley clearly knows his movie owes more to other movies than to actuality and accordingly proceeds with a light touch.)
However, we're by now in such a thicket of double-crosses it's hard to know whom to believe; trusting anyone is out of the question.
Ridley is really shrewd: In Ned and Jude he creates characters with a recklessness combined with sexual magnetism that are just what a satisfying escapist fantasy needs. He then makes them sufficiently self-deluding so that we don't have to care too much what happens to them.
Lynch's adamantine blond, who is certainly "cold around the heart," and Caruso's scrappy redhead are a terrific-looking couple and their mutual attraction is palpable. Dash is most appealing as a young woman who learns an awful lot awfully fast in such dangerously mercurial company. John Spencer is memorable as an old pal of Ned's who gives him shelter but is not so benignly avuncular as he at first seems; it is he who aptly labels Jude and Ned as "the low-rent Bonnie and Clyde."
Whether production designer Kara Lindstrom found actual untouched locales or dressed them to be the epitome of wonderfully tacky low-class taste that has always been a mainstay of roadside Americana, she has contributed crucially to "Cold Around the Heart's" atmospheric appeal.
"Cold Around the Heart," which has a zingy Mason Daring score, may not be nearly as witty or inspired as "Red Rock West" or "The Last Seduction"--the maker of those films, John Dahl, by the way gets a thank you in the end credits, but it's good enough to have rated a week at the Nuart or the Sunset 5 with their sophisticated audiences. Meanwhile, Caruso, who has famously left and returned to TV after a shot at the big screen, should nonetheless hang in there for further movie breaks.
Cold Around the Heart, 1997. R, for strong violence and language, and for sexuality. A 20th Century Fox release of an Illusion Entertainment Group/Baumgarten-Prophet Entertainment production. Writer-director John Ridley. Producers Dan Halstead, Craig Baumgarten, Adam J. Merims. Executive producer Richard Rutowski. Cinematographer Malik Massan Sayeed. Editor Eric L. Reason. Costumes Sara Jane Slotnick. Music Mason Daring. Production designer Kara Lindstrom. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. David Caruso as Ned Tash. Kelly Lynch as Jude. Stacey Dash as Beck. Chris Noth as T. John Spencer as Uncle Mike.