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Devil in a Blue Dress humor with hot topics

Devil In a Blue Dress

Written and Directed by Carl Franklin.

Starring Denzel Washington and Jennifer Beals.

Sony Cheri.

By John Dunagan

Cigarettes, whiskey and many twenty dollar bills: It was an exciting time for Ezekiel Rawlins (Denzel Washington). Coming to California to find work, Ezekiel finds trouble knocks more than opportunity does, and paying the bills requires more than your average 8-hour day and 5-day week. When a clean cut white man shows up offering money for the whereabouts of a young white woman who "likes pigs feet and jazz - you could say she mixes with negroes," Ezekiel makes the plot-propelling but stupid decision to take the money.

The set of Devil In A Blue Dress is excellent. While the costumes are not extravagant like other period movies, such as The Age of Innocence, the characters have smoothness flowing out of their toes. And where did they find that many classic cars? The illusion of an earlier part of the twentieth century is carried off very well, sinister mayoral candidates and all.

The texture of the movie, however, is darkly comic. While the movie briefly recycles many themes, such as the importance of friendship, the presence of racism, and the segregation of white and black communities, the propelling interest of the movie is humor. Characters for whom we might have earlier felt a bit of sympathy, particularly when they die, are made fun of periodically. As violent as the movie occasionally is, half of the deaths end in one-liners, although in a different manner than those from Schwarzenegger in Commando. (For those of you who don't remember, this movie featured great scenes such as Arnold dropping somebody off the edge of a cliff and saying "I had to let him go.")

The humor of the movie maintains the distance between the audience and the subject matter almost too well. The narration of Ezekiel (nicknamed EZ)is serious even as the backdrop of events is comic, undercutting any attempt to place too much faith in EZ's moralistic conclusions. We seem to be asked to judge EZ's friend Miles at the same time that EZ decides not to judge him and that Miles is a truly funny guy.

The movie's plot is rather predictable. The only respite from plot twists are about as exciting as the primary informant being found dead. Small, unexpected twists such as EZ's decision not to sleep with a beautiful woman alone in her hotel room create a formulaic tension. Although I'm sure somebody holding a gun to my head would be exciting, this portrayal on screen isn't half as nerve-wracking as it could be. Nevertheless, the movie is fun light fare for somebody in the mood for something socially irrelevant.