Film Review: Black Rose

The shadow of Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1988 'Red Heat' looms over this tepid thriller in which a serial killer targets L.A. hookers.
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LAPD Captain Dalano (Robert Davi) has a problem on his hands: Someone is torturing and murdering Russian-born prostitutes, leaving their bloodied corpses in public places accompanied by mocking notes and showy long-stemmed black roses. Detective Matt Robinson (Adrian Paul) is lead detective on the case, but he's getting nowhere and the press is having a field day, openly calling the department incompetent. It's clearly time to mix things up, so Dalano calls in Emily Smith (model-turned-tough gal Kristanna Loken), a profiler with limited field experience, and pairs her with Moscow PD legend Major Vladimir Kazatov (former body-builder, fitness guru and Mr. Universe Alexander Nevsky, who also directed). Naturally, Kazatov comes with a mixed reputation: He gets things done—he just made impressively short work of a gang of ruthless Russian bank robbers before they could start slaughtering hostages—but he isn't much for protocol or American niceties like suspects' rights.

Robinson is understandably annoyed at being sidelined, but Vlad and Emily hit it off surprisingly well despite their differences—both have secret sorrows that they inevitably divulge en route to the big takedown—and quickly focus on hard-nosed Natalya's (Olga Rodionova) Black Sea Club, a hangout for shady expats and lush-lipped tarts.

Written by ’80s model-turned B-movie action star Brent Huff and former classical dancer George Saunders, Black Rose hits all the required genre notes—brutalized victims, taunting phone calls, jittery high-speed montages (the better to remind viewers that beneath the blue skies and palm trees L.A. is a sprawling, unforgiving boulevard of broken dreams)—without distinguishing itself in any way. The murders are nasty but not especially imaginative, the milieu tawdry but curiously lifeless and the banter between Emily and Vlad painfully flat and cliched. "This guy's good—too good," intones Vlad of their maddeningly elusive quarry…really?

Kudos to onetime terminatrix Loken for carving out a solid, TV-heavy career for herself as a butt-kicking babe, but she's a one-note actress, and Nevsky, though clearly smart enough to leverage his assets, is no Arnold Schwarzenegger: Neither can act, but Schwarzenegger radiated star power and Nevsky doesn't. Black Rose is the kind of action movie that flourished in the ’80s, when low-budget grindhouse fare migrated to burgeoning direct-to-video and cable markets and though it's getting a theatrical release, it's the definition of made-for-VOD: blandly competent, undemanding and instantly forgettable.

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