Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 1, 2019)
While the sight of John Travolta in yet another direct-to-video film comes as no surprise, the movie’s other talent offers some hope that 2019’s The Poison Rose will work better than usual. In addition to Travolta, the cast includes Morgan Freeman, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Robert Patrick and Brendan Fraser, a more than capable crew.
Set in 1978, LA private detective Carson Philips (Travolta) takes a job that leads him back to Galveston, Texas, his former home. There he attempts to locate a missing woman named Barbara Van Poole.
Inevitably, Carson encounters snags, as he needs to deal with a mix of shady characters in Galveston. Carson’s haunted past comes back to create concerns as well, all while he attempts to solve a potential crime.
Though the film noir genre peaked in the 1940s and 1950s, parts of Hollywood remain enchanted with it. Like Westerns, they attempt to revive the genre from time to time, with erratic results.
Or with terrible results, which is what happens with the thoroughly misguided Rose. Even by the low standards of direct to video flicks, this one flops.
And that becomes especially true given all the talent I mentioned earlier. With so many notables involved, shouldn’t Rose manage to become something at least moderately watchable?
Alas, this fails to prove accurate. Confusing, messy and boring, Rose becomes a complete misfire.
As a period piece, the filmmakers barely attempt to recreate the 1970s. We know the story takes place in 1978 due to a title card, but the movie never “feels like 1978”. We get a few stylistic choices that echo the era but most of the flick seems like it could’ve been set in 2018.
Not that the period setting ever plays any discernible role in the proceedings. Maybe someone else can find a compelling reason to set the film four decades in the past, but I can’t, as there’s nothing here that requires the story to take place back then.
Rose does set up chronological confusion in some ways, mainly because I guess we’re supposed to accept Carson as a guy in his mid-40s. Perhaps I misinterpreted events, but I get the impression that he hightailed it out of Texas not long after his college football career ended in the late 1950s, and that places him in his 40s.
Now 65, Travolta can’t play mid-50s, much less mid-40s. All the bad wigs in the world won’t de-age Travolta to that degree.
We also need to accept Fraser – a man 14 years younger than Travolta – as someone in the same age group. This actually becomes a little easier to swallow because Fraser has let himself go so badly.
Was it really just 11 years ago that Fraser could still play the handsome, dashing hero of the Mummy movies? Now balding and obese, he barely resembles the actor we knew.
On one hand, I respect Fraser’s refusal to chase his youth, but on the other, no 51-year-old should look as awful as he does. Perhaps Fraser played up his hair loss and weight for the role, but I nonetheless get the impression he’s just fat and bald now, regardless of movie parts.
Even if we ignore these areas, Rose flops because it barely attempts a coherent narrative. The story sends Carson on all sorts of “mini-missions”, most of which fail to come together in a cohesive manner.
This means a story that hops from one character/circumstance to another without a lot of logic. We see different elements that get left hanging for extended periods as well as others that simply go nowhere at all.
Rose manages a few moments of genuine charm when Travolta interacts with his real-life daughter Ella Bleu on screen. He actually comes out of his cinematic coma and displays signs of life.
And then poof! We go back to the rambling, borderline unfollowable mess that is Rose. “Neo noir” can work as a genre, but Rose fails to exploit the possibilities in a satisfying way.