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One of Clint Eastwood's more "serious" efforts, with the action submerged in an artful darkness -- perhaps more dark than artful -- and backed by a Lennie Niehaus jazz score. The conception of the hero -- a police detective dirtier, in a sense, than Dirty Harry -- is of a man who must daily go down what Raymond Chandler christened Mean Streets, but who, in violation of Chandler's definition of a hero, is in imminent danger of himself becoming mean. Except that by his account his elbow-rubbing with the denizens of Mean Streets had only inspired him to treat his wife with more "tenderness." Except his wife wasn't "interested" in that, and it wasn't until she walked out on him that he began rubbing more than just elbows with what we might term Mean Streetwalkers. The character's fatherliness to his two pre-teen daughters is established fully, and wisely, before his predilection for kinky sex. But neither quality ever comes fully into play. And if the character isn't going to bear more heavily on the case, or the case isn't going to bear more heavily on him, then it is up to the case itself -- Jack the Ripper in New Orleans -- to hold our interest. It holds it fairly well, fairly far; but the case begins to break down irreparably with a very unscrupulous dream scene that writer-director Richard Tuggle seems to have trouble distinguishing from reality. And from that point onward, it would appear to be the filmmaker, much more than the central character, on whom some of the meanness of those Mean Streets has started to rub off. With Genevieve Bujold and Alison Eastwood. (1984) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R

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