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Review: 'The Poison Rose' is a wilting dalliance

Posted Tuesday, June 25, 2019 at 12:27 PM Central

by John Couture

Someone might want to get John Travolta a live chicken to sacrifice - and no, a fried one won't suffice. Forgive the allusion to Major League, but Travolta is on a Cerrano-esque hitting slump and there's no indication that he'll be back to hitting home runs again anytime soon.

Lest we forget Trading Paint, Speed Kills and Gotti, there was a time when John Travolta was actually an interesting casting choice and had The Poison Rose been made back then, I'm pretty sure that it would have been better. Sadly, it might take another Herculean effort from Quentin Tarantino to resurrect Travolta's career - again.

Of course, maybe he just needs to play a vampire because even when it appears to be on life support, you just can't seem to kill John Travolta's career.

In his latest offering, Travolta plays a hard-boiled LA private investigator in the 1970s who is beckoned back to his hometown of Galveston, Texas for a missing person job. Once back, he gets twisted up in a menagerie of increasingly bizarre characters and a murder mystery that reveals more about his own dark, disturbing past than he would prefer.

They say you can't ever go back home again and this old adage is played out to the tune of a noir-thriller that just doesn't really capture the spirit of the genre nor prove to be very thrilling. The sad part about the whole thing is that unlike Travolta's other flops from this year, he is actually surrounded by a brilliant cast of legends including Morgan Freeman, Brendan Fraser and Famke Janssen. You throw in decent performances from the always great Peter Stormare and Robert Patrick and you're left scratching your heard trying to figure out what went wrong.

And the answer isn't as obvious as you might expect.

Despite the sudden downward spiral lately, John Travolta is actually pretty decent in The Poison Rose. He captures the hard-boiled PI mystique perfectly and turns in a passable performance. There's just something lacking from the script and the pacing that really throws the film out of whack. It could be that despite being set in Texas, not a single actor comes close to mimicking their very specific drawl. Even worse, they all deliver various accents that run the spectrum from deep gothic Southern to Australian. Yeah, it's that bad.

But even if you dismiss the odd sounds being delivered to your ears, you are still left with a disjointed plot that has suffered as the result of its adaptation. I really can't explain why though as the book's original author was tabbed to write the screenplay, but the movie comes across as sloppy and predictable at times. These are serious flaws for any noir thriller out there.

Filmed in Georgia in lieu of Texas, the wildly different locales created a disconnect for me. I mean, Spanish Moss is a very specific plant to the Southern states such as South Carolina and Georgia. It is not found in the coastal island town of Galveston. Also, the color palette naturally tended towards more lush greens that are indicative of the more temperate Georgia locale while the more harsh Texas palette should have included more browns and oranges. Sure, it's a small distracting thing, but when I'm noticing stuff like this, it's far more telling of larger problems with the film being able to hold my attention.

The hallmark of any good noir thriller is both a killer dame and a mystery to solve. While The Poison Rose attempts to fill out both categories, it's far better in the femme fatale front than the mystery. Famke Janssen, Kat Graham and Travolta's own daughter Ella Bleu Travolta do their best to distract our would-be detective (and by extension us, the audience), but their foils can only go so far.

They say nepotism is dead in Hollywood, but I tend to disagree. I've seen many actors and actresses of the millennial generation following their famous parents into the family business with varying degrees of success. The jury is still out on Ella Bleu Travolta, but she might have more success if she set out on her and distanced herself a bit from her dad. She does have a couple of promising moments in the film, but like all of the other talented actors in the movie, her performance is overshadowed by the lackluster story.

The Poison Rose is a tough film to review because I can see it finding a moderate level of success on home video. There is an audience that appreciates this sort of quirky noir and heaven forbid I try and dissuade them from their happiness. However, if you're looking for a more traditional noir film, you might want to look elsewhere or dig back into the classics. Your mileage may vary, but life's getting too short to keep giving John Travolta a third and fourth chance.

The Poison Rose is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.