If exotic, third world locales and talented actors playing bizarre characters
are all it takes for you; you might just be able to enjoy CITY OF GHOSTS. But,
if you demand some semblance of coherence and believability, you'll probably end
up just as disappointed as I was. Not many films featuring Stellan Skarsg†rd,
one of the most intelligent actors around, are bad, but this one is. At least
it does have the gorgeous Natascha McElhone, playing her usual ornamental
girlfriend role. Her films are always at least watchable, since she is such a
In his very inauspicious movie directing debut in CITY OF GHOSTS, Matt Dillon
plays a "wrong-place-wrong-time type" named Jimmy. Dillon's acting isn't bad,
but his direction is another matter entirely. Working from a scatterbrained
script that he co-wrote with Barry Gifford, Dillon crafts one effectively
atmospheric but completely murky scene after another.
The film opens with a hurricane. It seems that Jimmy, employed by a sinister
and illusive guy named Marvin (James Caan), had sold worthless insurance
policies to the victims of the storm. In a story in which just about everyone
is dirty, the Feds quickly convince themselves that poor Jimmy was duped by the
Most of the rest of the story is set in a completely rundown area of Cambodia,
where Marvin has gone to invest his latest swindle money into a Las Vegas style
casino, which he hopes to build there. Kaspar (Skarsg†rd) is one of Marvin's
men. For comic effect, G‚rard Depardieu plays a sleazy bartender and hotel
owner. Overall, the movie makes you kind of sad as you witness some fine actors
The plot includes a rave at a ruin, severed body parts in a bag and pet pythons
who like to eat monkeys. It's also -- so far as I am aware -- the only film in
which James Caan attempts karaoke in Cambodian. (You'll want to plan your
bathroom break for that scene.)
"It doesn't make any sense!" Jimmy complains to Kaspar towards the story's end.
My sentiments exactly.
CITY OF GHOSTS runs 1:56. It is rated R for "language and some violence" and
would be acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes