A Disappointing Yet Not Completely Bad
Sequel To Chinatown (1974)
- The natural reaction upon discovering that a sequel to the amazing neo noir classic Chinatown (1974) exists is both to immediately gasp in horror and to be a little bit interested. Since the Roman Polanski-directed, Jack Nicholson-starring Chinatown is one of the finest thrillers ever constructed, the idea of a sequel is unnerving because its unnecessary and sequels are generally not as good as their originals; but because Chinatown is such a great film, the idea of a sequel is also interesting because a sequel could, potentially, be as great as Chinatown. 1990's The Two Jakes is the sequel to Chinatown, reuniting Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne and starring actor Jack Nicholson, who also directs the film. Set in the late 1940s, Private Investigator J.J. "Jake" Gittes again gets involved with a usual case of infidelity that turns into something far more serious.
When viewing, discussing, judging, or doing anything that revolves around The Two Jakes, the comparison to its successful older brother Chinatown is inevitable. While it makes sense to make some comparisons to Chinatown, this should not be the only action towards The Two Jakes as it should be judged on its own merits. But having said that, The Two Jakes is basically incomparable to Chinatown anyhow because Chinatown is a much better movie right from the word "go": The Two Jakes is only a slightly above average film.
Actually, things start off very well, the story begins with Gittes preparing for a sting with a client with the plot becoming quite involved quite fast. The first third of the film is shot very well, written very well, acted very well, and the film simply flows very well. Then The Two Jakes slowly develops into a slide show of bland framing and editing and begins to over-pack all sorts of plot-thickeners and "twists" into the film that creates a confusing mess. At a certain point in the film, the viewer does not know where or why or how characters are coming or going - or what is going on at all!
Jack Nicholson's performance of Jake Gittes is one of the few constant bright spots of the film, reviving his sarcastic, no-nonsense private eye character very well. The Jake Gittes in The Two Jakes lacks the same flare as the Gittes in Chinatown but that is understandable; Gittes is older now, a World War II veteran who has traded in his spying gig for a business man's life. However, old habits die hard when Gittes does one more detective job and his emotions get in the way of the case as he tries to keep stride with the enemy. It may not be one of Nicholson's finest hours but he does do a good job, putting a whole lot of strength into the role and bringing out Gittes' feelings of the past that haunts him very well. Unfortunately for Nicholson, he gets no help from his supporting cast whatsoever. Harvey Keitel is weak, Madeleine Stowe is terrible, David Keith is pathetic, and it's difficult to keep even one eye open when Rubén Blades is on screen.
The Two Jakes does have a few other positive points to it though. While much of the film's framing and editing is pretty bland, the entire film is well lit and colored as well - however, not achieving the same film noir effect of Chinatown. Also, amidst the over-convoluted story, Robert Towne manages to squeeze a few lines of good and funny dialogue into the film.
So with Jack Nicholson leading a film with a mostly poorly written story that is mostly well shot, I say that The Two Jakes is not a bad film and is mostly worth one's time. Still, by being a disappointing addition to the fabulous Chinatown, you almost want a third film to finish off the series.... Almost.
CBC Rating: 6/10