Released in 1990, Chicago Joe and The Showgirl is based on the true story of a young US soldier posted in London during the Blitz who meets up a fame obsessed Londoner, and before you can say Blitz, Brits and Badlands, they go on a robbing and killing spree.
The big problem with Chicago Joe is that the film doesn’t know what tone to take. It wants to be a black comedy, a surreal fantasy film and thriller, however due to its randomly shifting tone, it fails to be any of the above. In particular, the first half of the movie is filled with scenes where the main actors appear as if they are in a 1940’s gangster film – for no apparent reason (other than to show that the showgirl of the title is a fan of gangster films), totally taking you out of the film.
Once the couple go on their spree, director Bernard Rose’s film starts to pick up pace, and the second half is a huge improvement on the first. There’s a good balance of tension and there are a few twists and reveals that will keep the viewer interested. The film was obviously shot on a tight budget, and there is quite an old fashioned feel to it- mainly through the use of matte paintings.
The cast do well with the material, Kiefer Sutherland has good screen presence and Emily Lloyd gives a strong performance as the woman who seduces him to committing the crimes. However, the less said about Patsy Kensit as Sutherland’s clueless fiancé the better.
Though not a great film, there is much to recommend about Chicago Joe and the Showgirl. The film is well made and acted, although it’s a shame that the first half is so uneven. It’s an interesting film set in a location and time period that has been largely ignored by cinema, and for that it has to be praised. A noble failure.