Forty-four years have passed since a feature film was last built around Raymond Chander’s harder-than-hard-boiled fictional detective Philip Marlowe—a screen absence that seems both unnecessarily long as it is now, in the wake of Neil Jordan’s “Marlowe,” Not So Long Enough. . A false, flimsy attempt at vintage noir, the film is adapted not from a work by Chandler, but from “The Black-Eyed Blonde,” an authorized 2014 Marlowe entry, by Irish novelist John Banville. Minus Banville’s own talent for literary ventriloquism, but this all-too-obviously European co-production can’t help but feel several degrees removed from the real thing, unaided by the shuffling, clunky presence of a wildly misguided Liam Neeson in ever-stuffed shoes by Bogart and mitchum.
After a quiet premiere as the closing film at this year’s San Sebastian Film Festival, “Marlowe” will be released by Open Road Films in the United States on December 2 — though even with the great cachet of Jordan, Neeson, and co-stars Diane Kruger and Jessica Lange, it’s doubtful the film will leave a major trail before, like many a Philip Marlowe quarry, it vanishes without a trace. For Jordan — far removed here from the nifty genre acrobatics of “The Crying Game,” or even the winking camp fun of 2018’s “Greta” — this feels like a particularly listless, pro forma effort, recognizable as his only one through the curious Irish anachronisms. that are peppers and “The Departed” writer William Monahan’s supposedly Californian script.
As it is, Dublin and Barcelona take turns diving into Chandler’s fictional ‘Bay City’ Los Angeles neighborhood, neither very convincing; DP Xavi Gimenez paints over the geographical differences with a uniform yellow filter that gives at least an appropriate shade to the proceedings. The year is 1939—coincidentally the same year Marlowe made his literary debut under that name in “The Big Sleep”—but the detective of the same name is a much older, more tired figure than in Chandler’s tales of the time, inclined more toward resigned shrug then cynical jokes, with all his sentences coming up like a kind of sigh.
It is with this perpetually exhausted air that Marlowe does business with glamorous Irish-American heiress Clare Cavendish (Kruger, with platinum blonde waves and a wandering continental accent), who enlists him to investigate the disappearance of her lover, two-bit Hollywood star Nico. to investigate. Peterson (François Arnaud). Early polls suggest he was murdered in an elite members’ club run by pinstriped thug Floyd Hanson (Danny Huston), though “Marlowe” doesn’t let his audience go home that early.
Others complicating this living-death investigation are lascivious mobster Lou Hendricks (a mature Alan Cumming, saddled with a “back entrance” pun), his ambiguously loyal driver Cedric (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, saddled with a dated racial stereotype), and Clare’s former movie star mother Dorothy Quincannon (Jessica Lange, saddled in stiff equestrian clothes), a hostile, secretive girl whose question marks only begin with her clunky English delivery. “You’re a long way from Tipperary, Dorothy,” Marlowe mutters in the film’s most unintentionally amusing one-liner: the audience may wonder how close she once was.
Chandler’s plots were never designed to be neatly untangled: the best of them are so cryptic that they are compelling, drawing readers and viewers into the characters’ obsessive circling. “Marlowe” offers inscrutability without intrigue, though, the mystery being both too easy to solve and too muddy motivated to endure, as the various villains and macguffins and red herring tick genre boxes without building up the required atmospheric haze. Marlowe himself, meanwhile, should be aloof, but not as untethered as he seems here: the real rift of missing chemistry between Neeson’s gumshoe and Kruger’s femme fatale keeps neither side persevering in the case. “He must feel something between us,” Clare purrs after a prickly encounter between Marlowe and her fruitless husband, waiting a moment before adding, “Something sexual.” The public can be happy with the clarification.
Jordan and Monahan love the kind of dialogue that wouldn’t have gotten past the Hays code in film noir’s heyday, but the preponderance of four-letter words and more candid innuendo makes “Marlowe” feel more artificial than tense, an indulgent cosplay. exercise rather than a fresh genre intervention. Where Robert Altman’s 1970s set “The Long Goodbye” Marlowe ingeniously rewrote for a then-new Hollywood, Jordan’s film is both resolutely conservative in its period frame and irritatingly postmodern in its audience indulgence: a tense Leni Riefenstahl scream. is played for laughs, although the film does not risk its own historical or political ideas.
Indeed, the most contemporary embellishment here may be Neeson’s occasional, very non-noir switch-flip in total “Taken” mode, when his Marlowe puts the lingering boredom aside for a moment to send out bad guys with find-you-and-kill- you boxing match. “I’m getting too old for this,” he growls even after pounding another throwaway-heavy, after which it’s not clear who or what the joke is: the film’s oddly placed star, the half-hearted hero being revived, or the genre it seems to love only occasionally. “The key to Hollywood is knowing when the game is over,” Lange’s imperious diva Marlowe advises at one point; “Marlowe,” on the other hand, never gets the memo.