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Non-Review Review: Half Moon Street

I do feel a little pang of sorrow that Half Moon Street opens with the “RKO” branding. RKO was the studio that gave us Citizen Kane and King Kong, so it’s just a bit disheartening to see the studio branding a half-hearted thriller that seems to exist only to show as much of Sigourney Weaver naked as humanly possible. Don’t get me wrong, of course, I’m not a prude. I have no problem with the notion of an “erotic thriller”, were it well handled. However, Half Moon Street is just a disjointed poorly-conceived mess featuring two leads who seem to give up on the movie about half-way through. It’s not as if there isn’t fertile ground for a gripping espionage thriller here, it’s more that the script by Edward Behr and Bob Swaim is so lifeless (and Bob Swaim’s direction so lethargic) that there’s absolutely no reason to care at all about anything that unfolds throughout the series of insanely massive coincidences that drive the plot.

“Okay… try to look inconspicuous…”

Weaver plays Dr. Slaughter, an expert in the Middle East who is strapped for cash. A mysterious third party ends up providing her with an advertisement for an escort service, and Dr. Slaughter decides to sign herself up. Of course, she signs up on her own terms, so it’s supposed to be empowering rather than sleazy – she boasts about how she determines what happens after dinner, even if it seems like she always follows through. Prostitution (and that’s basically what her job is, regardless of what she might claim) is a bit of a thorny issue, but thorny issues normally make for good drama.

Does Slaughter have any preconceptions about being an escort? Is she ashamed? Should she be ashamed? Is there an imbalance of power in her relationship with her manager? Does she regret it? Does she think twice about it? Given that it seems to be an open secret in the posh circles where she moves (with several Middle Eastern petrol barons), what does her daytime employer make of her night-time activities? A random character offers a pointed question about what job she’s doing at a certain function, but there’s no inherent suggestion of any social stigma. In fact, it seems like working as an escort is just something that she does.

Slick…

And, as far as the plot is concerned, that’s as far as it goes. Allowing Dr. Slaughter to work as an escort provides two functions: it allows Sigourney Weaver to appear naked throughout the film; and it sets up a conspiracy plot involving a prominent negotiator and a vital Middle Eastern peace deal. The deal is negotiated by an aristocrat played by Michael Caine, but we never really learn too much about it. Like Slaughter’s profession, it’s a cheap plot device to create suspense. I have no problem with cheap plot devices, but it just seems so shallow – especially given how much we hear about how difficult it was to organise and all that nonsense.

It’s not just that the film isn’t interested in its situations. It is never exceptionally interested in its characters either. When it becomes clear that Slaughter is being manipulated by a sinister conspiracy to attack her upper-class lover, she seems to barely factor into anybody’s plans, not even her own. As a man sits opposite her with a gun, she reaches a shocking realisation. “You’re going to kill Sam!” she yells. Later on, her hostage-taker boasts about killing “two birds with one stone”– not Slaughter and her lover, but the politician and his reputation. Nobody seems too bothered that Slaughter herself is also going to be murders.

Doctor, they say (s)laughter is the best medicine…

Even the film doesn’t seem too bothered in Slaughter as a character. She’s petty and self-absorbed. For all she boasts about empowerment, she doesn’t seem to enjoy sex for its own end. Spurned by her lover, she takes another man to bed out of spite. Rather than making her appear like a strong and independent woman, it makes her seem petty and weak. Really, a man stands her up so she immediately has sex with somebody else to get back at him? Despite the fact we’re told that she’s compelling company and how men seem to swoon around her, even as she lectures them about the economics of the Middle East, the film paints Slaughter as a vacuous empty stereotype. It seems that, despite being given a prestigious title and profession, the movie is more interested in the idea of Sigourney Weaver naked than it is in making us care about her character.

Weaver and Caine are, however, solid. Neither is exceptional, and neither will hold the film up as a testament to their skill. Indeed, both actors have a history of appearing in films that don’t quite meet their level of talent. Weaver does her best early on, but seems to lose interest as the movie presses towards its mandatory climax. Michael Caine is dignified, even sporting a dodgy moustache. Neither shows any real interest in trying to salvage the film, perhaps having pragmatically reached the conclusion that it’s beyond saving, but neither is undignified or embarrassing.

“I know you didn’t want me in your life… oh I guess you were right…”

I will confess, somewhat guiltily, to enjoying Richard Harvey’s score. It is pure eighties bliss. The film was released in 1986, and you can almost feel Harvey aching to do his Jan Hammer impersonation. It’s overwhelming and cheesy, but it fits the movie quite well. I have a soft spot for synthesisers, so I confess that I might not be the most impartial judge.

Half Moon Street doesn’t even feel half full. It’s a completely hallow film, and one that manages to be unworthy of Caine or Weaver, even while the pair seem to be on auto-pilot.

2 Responses

  1. Oh thank you for yet another wonderful review. Excuse me non-review.

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