Not that Neeson is to blame. In this shockingly dull production, directed by Neil Jordan, equally promising elements never come together in a convincing or engrossing way: This is the kind of movie in which almost none of the actors seem to believe a word they’re saying, including “and” and “the.”
The one exception is Jessica Lange, who portrays a fading Hollywood movie star with captivating bite and seductive allure. She plays Dorothy Cavendish, whose daughter Clare (Diane Kruger) has hired Philip Marlowe to find her lover Nico. The inciting incident sends Marlowe on a familiar trail of clues and characters that should up the ante on suspense. Instead, even with the likes of Alan Cumming, Colm Meaney and Danny Huston on hand to deliver the Chandler-esque dialogue by way of screenwriter William Monahan, the whole enchilada deflates into a mess of pasty rice and beans. (“Marlowe” is based on the novel by John Banville, originally titled “The Black-Eyed Blonde.”)
Jordan’s choice to cast Huston will strike some viewers as a clever callback to Huston’s father’s role in “Chinatown.” Others will be reminded of just how rarely modern-day attempts to revive the hard-boiled crime thriller succeed. In this case, “Marlowe” is stilted where it should be stylish, tiresome when it should be twisty, airless when it should be engrossing.
Jordan and his production team do a creditable job of taking advantage of Barcelona’s pristine period architecture and palm trees to evoke 1939 Los Angeles, even as they dutifully trot out noir tropes like rainy streets, neon lights, dope fiends, sexual perversion and corruption. Like most exercises in the genre, “Marlowe” comes down to a series of talky two-handers, most of which are soporifically boring (even when one is played with a B-movie actress in makeup simulating a shot-out eye).
Less intriguingly convoluted than concussed into lifelessness, “Marlowe” is the cinematic equivalent of a word salad: It parrots all the right lines while striking all the right poses, without saying much of anything at all.
R. At area theaters. Contains strong language, violence, some sexuality and brief drug use. 114 minutes.