The Cotton Club

on December 14, 1984 by Jimmy Summers
Starring Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane, Lonette McKee, Bob Hoskins, James Remar, Nicolas Cage and Fred Gwynne. Directed by Francis Coppola. Written by William Kennedy, Francis Coppola and Mario Puzo. Produced by Robert Evans. An Orion release. Musical drama. Rated R. Running time: 127 min.   "The Cotton Club" is lavish entertainment, but it's also a movie without a center. It has some wonderfully funny moments and a whole gallery of great supporting characters. But it also has two leads--Richard Gere and Diane Lane--who add up to something less than zero. The cinematic equivalent of a black hole, the would-be romantic duo succeed in pulling down everything around them. That plus a wildly unfocused script prevent "The Cotton Club" from being a complete success. Yet, for all these problems, Francis Coppola also supplies enough dazzling sideshows to keep the movie moving and the audience happy.
   The Cotton Club of the 1920s and 1930s, the white-owned Harlem nightclub that featured light-skinned black singers, dancers and musicians performing for all-white audiences, serves as the story's backdrop. (That it could have been the story instead of just the story's backdrop is one of the movie's more nagging problems.) Among the club's more frequent guests are gangsters of the era, including a violently unpredictable Dutch Schultz (James Remar). When cornet player Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere) saves Dutch's life during an assassination attempt, a grateful Dutch hires Dixie to be his beard with Vera Cicero (Diane Lane), his teenage girlfriend who has dreams of owning her own nightclub. Dutch also hires Dixie's aspiring-gangster brother Vincent (Nicolas Cage) as a bodyguard.
   Meanwhile, brothers Sandman and Clay Williams (Gregory and Maurice Hines) have landed a dancing job at the Cotton Club. Almost immediately, Sandman falls in love with Lila Rose Oliver (Lonette McKee), a light-skinned singer who plans to move on to jobs for which she'll pass as white and who thus considers a relationship with Sandman impossible.
   Also in the story are the owner of the Cotton Club, Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins), who does his best to keep peace with the hot-headed Dutch, and Owney's right-hand man Frenchie Demange (Fred Gwynne).
   An attraction grows between Dixie and Vera, but eventually Dixie is discovered by Hollywood and moves west to become a star in gangster movies as well as Owney's "contact" in California. Sandman splits with his brother, Dutch tries to get a piece of the black-operated numbers rackets and Vera gets her own club.
   When Dixie returns for a visit, he finds his brother has become a little too ambitious for his own good. Vincent's gang accidentally kills several children during a shootout, and Vincent is dubbed a "babykiller" by the press. He becomes even crazier and kidnaps Frenchie. Dixie acts as a go-between and delivers Owney's ransom payment. Frenchie is released, but soon Vincent is gunned down.
   Sandman's estrangement from his brother ends with a reunion on stage. Sandman also reunites with Lila, who is successfully passing as white.
   As a new generation of Mafia gangsters starts to move into the neighborhood, Dutch is killed, Owney leaves to serve a term at Sing Sing (where a carpeted cell with all the amenities awaits him), and Dixie and Vera board the train for Los Angeles.
   The dancing is great, the music is great, the set and costume designs are great, and all the supporting players are great. Unfortunately, audiences also have to deal with Richard Gere and Diane Lane, and they are not great; they're not even very good. Repeatedly, the camera cuts away from a musical number (not one at the Cotton Club is seen in its entirety) to their relationship, which is so devoid of chemistry that it brings the movie to a halt.
   Another, not quite as destructive problem is the scattershot approach of the script. Much has been written about producer Robert Evans' trials in getting "The Cotton Club" to the screen and the manner in which Coppola created the script as he went along. Sad to say, all of that shows up in the improvised feeling and inconsistencies of the finished product.
   But it's also easy to dismiss all those faults, at least while one is watching the movie, and enjoy "The Cotton Club" for all its virtues. There're always something and someone interesting just around the corner; and, if Coppola seems to have difficulty with the story's narrative line, he does manage to help the audience keep straight the huge cast of characters. FLASHBACK: FEBRUARY, 1985
What BOXOFFICE said about...
Tags: No Tags

read all Reviews »


No comments were posted.

What do you think?