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It's a quick trip to a sour ending in China Moon

CHINA MOON

Directed by John Bailey.

Written by Roy Carlson.

Starring Ed Harris, Madeleine Stowe, Benicio Del Toro,

and Charles Dance.

By Scott Deskin
Associate Arts Editor

The woes of Orion Pictures lately have been a bit, well, painful to observe. The once-defunct studio's pictures that have been sitting on the shelf since 1991 have finally been promoted to see the light of day: as a result, the likes of Robocop 3 and Car 54, Where Are You? have been buried as soon as they were exhumed. The latest offer from Orion, titled China Moon, is a marginally classier effort but ultimately is done in by its own poor scripting and less-than-inspired acting.

China Moon, originally made in 1992, is the story of Florida police detective Kyle Bodine (Ed Harris) and how he is drawn into a web of intrigue, sexual affairs, and murder when he crosses paths with mysterious femme fatale Rachel Munro (Madeleine Stowe). She first meets him in a bar and surreptiously comes on to him, sparking the sexual desire of the bachelor cop. He soon finds out, along with his partner Lamar Dickey (Benicio Del Toro), that Rachel is wife of bank president Rupert Munro (Charles Dance), an abusive, cheating husband.

Things start to get sticky when Rachel and Kyle have their own affair and a conflict between husband and wife appears imminent. It comes as no surprise, then, that after she buys an unregistered firearm she should use it on her husband when she finally tries to break free from her marriage. The rest of the film concerns a cover-up, in which Rachel enlists Kyle's reluctant help to keep her out of the hands of the law so that they can live happily ever after.

The happy ending part in this neo-noir potboiler is of course not going to happen, and romantic/criminal entanglements that ensue are never really resolved at the end. But the film is so haphazard in its development of plot and character that the audience doesn't really care. A somewhat bold casting move for Ed Harris, who has been a great character actor, to play the male lead was a mistake: he neither has the physical presence nor the charisma to draw in an audience. Stowe's performance is worse: she alternately plays the victim and aggressor with relative indifference-even the sex scenes seem rigidly cardboard-like. When Stowe strips down bare to skinny dip in a lake with her co-star, the implied sex is as subtle as a gunshot wound to the head.

The performances of the other actors are similarly stiff and unsurprising. It was as if the filmmakers operated with a textbook of 1940s film noir and still couldn't get it right (maybe because this film is in color). The only other noteworthy thing about this film is its title, which is mentioned once by Kyle to Rachel: "When the moon is like a big old plate of china, strange things happen." The film's reference to the title is pretty shallow, which rather neatly sums up the movie. China Moon goes nowhere quickly and ends on a particularly sour note: that perhaps there is no justice in the world. This may really be the case if you are unable to get a refund.