Movie Review

Phoenix (1998)

MPAA Rating: R

Details Rated: R; Genres: Drama, Mystery and Thriller; With: Giancarlo Esposito, Anjelica Huston, Anthony LaPaglia, Ray Liotta and Brittany Murphy; Distributor: Trimark Pictures

It's easy to see why this sleekly executed corrupt-cop noir, which premiered on HBO, is now getting a theatrical release. Phoenix is driven by a tricky, lowdown sense of moral jaundice and by characters who run the gamut from sleazy to sleazier. Ray Liotta, with his fleshy devil-baby handsomeness, plays an essentially honorable officer in sun-dried Arizona who is also steeped in vice. He's a compulsive gambler — a benign enough sin on the surface, except it means that he's perpetually in hock to the sort of strong-arm bastards he should be putting behind bars. Among the film's pungent gallery of troublemakers are Anthony LaPaglia as Liotta's most raffishly degenerate law-enforcement colleague, Giancarlo Esposito as a flesh-peddling loan shark who waxes deadly poetic while being serviced by his latest stripper/whore, and Brittany Murphy as a succulently nasty teen vixen. The director, Danny Cannon (Judge Dredd), does deft variations on L.A. Confidential and Bad Lieutenant, but when Liotta, on a collision course with bad luck, agrees to participate in a heist, the scheme crashes in violently predictable ways. There's even a climactic rainstorm — a sure sign that the movie, for all its skill, is taking the tropes of noir a bit too reverentially. B

Originally posted Oct 09, 1998 Published in issue #453 Oct 09, 1998 Order article reprints

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