James Caan gets drawn into a byzantine case involving several murders and big money deals, 29 March 2014
"Poodle Springs" is quite an enjoyable cinematic rendering of an older Philip Marlowe (James Caan). Heís set up and thus becomes tangled in a typically complex Chandleresque case. This could possibly doom his quick Mexican marriage to a real dish, Dina Meyer, who also has dough, her father (Joe Don baker) being a big land baron in more ways than one. She wants her husband to cool the detective work and settle down in Poodle Springs to a life of comfort and ease. He has other ideas.
Itís sort of Chinatown-lite on a TV-movie scale. Caan is a convincing actor with more than his share of electricity, as in "Rollerball", "The Thief", "The Killer Elite" and "Hide in Plain Sight". In this later effort, heís not going to give up his ethics for anything. Determined he is to get to the bottom of things no matter what. Caan plays Marlowe as the script necessitates, a staunch and smart man, who knows who he is and knows his limitations. He wonít be pushed around. Heís unimpressed by the rich and famous. Itís a straight-ahead performance, showing an old hand at the work, somewhat tired and cynical, having been around the track more than a few times. This is not as easy to carry off as Caan makes it seem.
This is the kind of story where some of the mystery is resolved well before the end, but that leaves further mysteries to be revealed. I like that. Thereís one sequence that involves an addict-hooker played by Nia Peeples. Sheís terrific. Sheís so realistic that only afterward did I remember sheís an actress. David Keith does a turn and carries it off well. Dina Meyer can act, but I think her diction could be better. I donít think the sound track can be blamed in this case for mumbled words.
Thereís a fair amount of atmosphere, mainly through cars and clothes. They really didnít lay the locations on heavy. They didnít lay on Chandlerís lines and phrases either. No laconic narration in this one. Itís a straight-ahead kind of complex story. Not really a heavy neo-noir feeling either, even though thereís plenty of hanky-panky going on. Itís more that there are physical threats or the feeling that danger keeps lurking everywhere that pepper the story. That makes for a pretty good amount of engagement and tension. We know that Marlowe can handle himself, but the story is quite good in giving us some fresh ways he does that.
As the story matures, there are echoes of the Sternwoodís family issues and of Chinatown. The familiarity doesnít spoil the fun. We can listen to more than one chorus of the blues or of Raymond Chandler, even in this distant and attenuated form in which someone else finished Chandlerís uncompleted story (from 1959) and movie makers in a different era of the late 90s decided to place the story in 1963. The early frames show us an early date in November 1963. The final frames show November 22, 1963. There is an allusion to that deadly day linking to this fictional story.