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Mystery Train

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Jim Jarmusch's omnibus of three short stories, elegantly structured so that the stories, though occurring simultaneously and in the same general place (a predominantly black section of Memphis, and ultimately a specific seedy hotel therein), are told consecutively, with no switching back and forth. A gunshot heard offscreen near the end of the first two stories seems certain to be on center-stage in the last one: a good deal of curiosity, if not suspense, is worked up about this. "Stories," however, is perhaps too grandiose a word for these mere wisps. The first, which has no direct connection to the ensuing two, concerns a couple of anti-traditional Japanese youths on a rock-and-roll pilgrimage across America. (To Mitsuko, Elvis is still the king; Jun holds out for Carl Perkins.) The next two stories are more intimately interconnected: one about a newly widowed Italian (Nicoletta Braschi) who shares a hotel room with a newly unattached local woman, and to whom the ghost of Elvis appears in the middle of the night; the other about the jilted British boyfriend (Joe Strummer) of the aforesaid local woman, presently in the throes of suicidal urges or homicidal or both. The quirky humor is as relentless and hard-pushed as the deadpan surface can bear. And it would not be too hard to imagine more satisfyingly developed and satisfyingly interrelated stories being plugged into the same structure. But, considering the state of the cinema at the end of the Eighties, you may as well settle for what little you can get. (1989) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R

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