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Blood and Wine/B, B

US/1996/Color/Widescreen 1.85:1/Stereo Surround/101 minutes/Directed by Bob Rafelson/Starring Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine/Fox/26 Chaps/CLV/$

This could have been a resurrection film for director Bob Rafelson. The screenplay has enormous potential to mine the vast wealth of film noir tradition. The set-up is tightly scripted, but Blood and Wine betrays its vintage origins with and lackluster and contrived second half. Half of Blood and Wine is better than no taste of noir at all. At least this is ambitious and intelligent filmmaking with violence that develops naturally from plot.

Wine merchant Alex Gates(Jack Nicholson)on the financial shorts plots to rob a wealthy client while they are away. He enlists the aid of sleazy crook Victor Spansky(Michael Caine). The best laid plans of criminal intent often go astray in the world of noir, but not always by the most obvious route.

Complicating Gates’ quest for unsavory financial independence is a sexy mistress, a dried up marriage, and a stepson who see right through him. The characters meet on collision course in colorful Miami, a prime modern noir locale.

Rafelson’s direction is crisp. Blood and Wine has a terrific look. The camera work of Newton Thomas Sigal(Usual Suspects)provides a perfect view of Miami and environs. Richard Sylbert supplies production design details that bring the screen world to life.

Rafelson lures an appealing array of actors for Blood and Wine. Jack Nicholson has a role to get his teeth into without going over the top. His Alex Gates sweats desperation. Michael Caine coughs his way through the role of Victor with oily conviction. Jennifer Lopez is a paradigm of noir beauty, sultry, hard, resourceful. Stephen Dorff is hyped and well tuned to the world of Blood and Wine and Judy Davis is convincing as Suzanne Gates.

Images are not consistently sharp in Blood and Wine. Increased shadow detail would have served the laser disc in better stead. The dark world of noir requires shadowy images and they rarely make for easy transfers. Color is good.