Take a Drink: for infidelity, the P.I.’s bread and butter
Take a Drink: for audio recorders
Take a Drink: for ties and callbacks to Chinatown
Take a Drink: whenever a character does
Take a Drink: whenever Jake takes a beating… again
Do a Shot: wait, is that Tom Waits?
Do a Shot: Boom!
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Uber-late sequels to cinematic classics are something Hollywood can’t get enough of, even through that has proven near universally to be a terrible idea (sorry Dan Ackroyd, but Ghostbusters 3 is going to suck so, so much balls).
Okay, it’s likely to top an unauthorized, DeNiro-less Raging Bull sequel
This is far from a new trend, of course, and one of its more prominent examples is Chinatown’s sequel The Two Jakes. But is it as bad as its brethren? The Two Jakes finds a couple decades older Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) still playing the private eye game, particularly in divorce cases. A sting he sets up with jilted husband Jake Berman (Harvey Keitel) ends in bloodshed, and he finds himself drawn into another conspiracy involving land development, oil, multiple femme fatales, and the inescapable grasp of the past.
Plus fracking, I think.
First things first, this is no Chinatown. Comparing the vast majority of films to that one isn’t quite fair. What it is, however, is a perfectly functional continuation of that story, broadening its themes and introducing new ones. Robert Towne again scripts (he’d originally planned on a trilogy) and he delivers a mystery that’s just as well-developed and evocative of film noir classics, if not quite giving that feeling of crackling emotion and genre transgression as its predecessor.
Part of the reason for that is everybody is older, and wiser. Jack Nicholson plays the same old Jake, maybe a more cynical, and undoubtedly (and understandably) a bit more jaded, but still raffish, wry, and confident, and still impossible to shake once he has the scent of a mystery (especially when his own skin is at stake). Keitel as the second Jake may get the best arc, though. Nobody does unhinged or slimy quite like him, but over the course of the film he gets to show many more dimensions, vulnerability, empathy, and even a sort of honor. The women are not as well-written, but Meg Tilly certainly gets the longer end of the stick, even if she is too young for her role, with the more affecting backstory and the opportunity to put her blonde good looks to goo d use as a Douglas Sirkian conflicted heroine with a traumatic backstory.
Nicholson’s actually pulling double duty as the lead and the director (in his first effort no less). Yes, he’s no Roman Polanski, but does have some interesting visual eye and an obviously steady hand with his actors and pacing. Considering his inexperience behind the camera, that’s goddamn impressive. Cinematographer extraordinaire Vilmos Zsigmond (The Deer Hunter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Heaven’s Gate) certainly helped him with those visuals, taking obvious cues from both old school Technicolor productions and the gritty, grainy 70s style its predecessor occupied.
Well, watching Jake Gittes play golf like your arthritic grandpa is kinda sad.
Hopefully Harrison Ford is spared this indignity in the new Blade Runner
Seriously, though, The Two Jakes real failing (besides not being Chinatown), is its occasional attempts at comedy, mostly at the expense of Madeleine Stowe’s ridiculously overblown performance. We’re only talking a few scenes, but they’re all excruciating, especially the obligatory sex scene with an out of breath Gittes looking like he’d far rather be somewhere else in a rocking chair with a tall glass of ice tea.
The Two Jakes may not be Chinatown, but it was never going to be. Taken on its own terms, it’s quite good in its own right, and who can say no to more Jake Gittes?