Movie Review: The Two Jakes

Posted: May 24, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The opening title card!

The Two Jakes (1990 Paramount Dir. Jack Nicholson)

I seem to be doing this a bit lately. Sitting down at my desk with a movie I’ve never seen ready to pound out a review. Strange to relate, I seem to have bought a copy of the movie that originated in Canada. Everything on the packaging is in both English and French. That’s Amazon’s marketplace for you I guess. I’m not complaining or anything, I just find it a little odd. I figure it has to be okay with a movie that has the reputation of this thing. So should we start with a recap of Chinatown? Probably not. As I understand it, this is one of those sequels that’s barely connected to the original. Since this takes place in 1948 and Chinatown took place in 1937, there wouldn’t be a lot of reason for them to be connected to each other. Actually, while eleven years of movie time had passed, sixteen years of real time had passed. I’d like to take this time to point out that The Godfather III also came out in 1990 and it had also been sixteen years since the last installment. I only point this out so that I can tell the Die Hard, Rambo, Rocky, Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Roger Rabbit* people that we knew a long time ago that waiting more than 15 years for a sequel was a bad idea. Although Stallone seems to have done quite well with his.
*Don’t laugh, they’re planning it right now.

He was as shocked as anyone to find himself here again.

We start with Jake Gittes, still working in L.A. like he was in the last movie. Only now it’s Post War L.A. and things are a little different from how they were when he last saw Jake. Not completely different you understand, but a bit different. One of the things that isn’t different is that Jake is still taking pictures of husbands and wives in flagrante delicto, or as I like to call it compromising circumstances. Because it’s easier for the spell check to see if I’ve spelled it right. Spell check don’t know them fancy “foreign” words. Side note, this movie has a voiceover narration which is a cheap way to load a lot of information into the movie. Sometimes it works, but most times, it doesn’t. We’ll have to see how it goes here. This movie was not a success in either the critical or commercial senses, so my hopes aren’t what you’d call “up” exactly. It looks nice so far though.

No joke here, I just wanted to show off how cool Jake’s office was.

The movie more or less begins with a murder. Yup, right out of the gate Harvey Keitel flat out kills a guy. Jake and company are supposed to be making a wire recording where they’ll get divorce evidence. The problem is that the client doesn’t stick to his lines upon discovering the adultery, he shoots his wife’s lover. The client, by the way, is also called Jake. That’s where the title comes from. It quickly transpires that not only was the guy Jake 2 shot his wife’s lover, but he was also Jake 2’s business partner. This information is given to us by Eli Wallach, who was in Godfather III as well. Why is he in all the 1990 sequels of historical movies that took 16 years to come about? Also, evidently they have earthquakes in California. Two in the span of twenty minutes in the movie so far. Odd, you almost never see them in movies, not even movies about L.A. and here there have been two in twenty minutes.

Ahh, the good old days. When everyone smoked and no one got cancer.

Ah, Katherine Mulwray was just mentioned, so clearly this movie is going to have something to do with the events of Chinatown after all. Not sure what yet and we can’t worry about it because there is another round of “Talk the Plot” for us to be subjected to. That’s always a risk in movies like this, that people’s motives will just be expressed by random people who come walking in. In this case, Jake 2 and his partner had one of those convenient agreements you only get in movies where if one of them dies the other gets the business and all the money. If Jake 2 gets the business, the wife of his partner gets nothing. So her lawyer suggests that if they can prove Jake 2 was using his wife’s infidelity as an excuse to kill the partner, then everything will go to the partner’s wife. Clear? Hope so, because we’ve got to keep moving.

Looks like country living without the country.

Jake goes to check out the building site where Jake 2 is selling houses to nice proto-yuppies looking for a room to start booming babies. They discuss the case just long enough to get a few bits of information that seems trivial at the time but will turn out to be very important. I’ve ah… I’ve seen one or two of these L.A. mysteries before. The information at hand is that there is a lot of gas under this particular development and it’s going to disturb the new housing development soon. Jake 1 tells Jake 2 that if he gives the widow some cash he (Jake 1) won’t make a big deal about the whole thing, but if he (Jake 2) tries to screw around he (Jake 1) will prove that he (Jake 2) did indeed murder his partner. Jake 2 seems to take this all amazingly well, considering he’s being accused of murder. Jake 2 tells Jake 1 that he (Jake 1) doesn’t really know what’s going on, he (Jake 1) only thinks he (Jake 1) does. Then the movies blows Jake up.

Nicholson’s attempt to recreate the opening credit sequence to Casino… five years before it was even made.

I wish I was joking, but I’m not. Jake sits down on an old well to smoke a cigarette and when his cigarette comes close enough to the planks covering the old well, it bursts into flames and explodes. See? Listening when they talk about explosive gases always helps. Jake explains, while in a haze, that he had been to this location before. See, this was the orange grove where Jake got his ass kicked in Chinatown. I guess I’m going to have to write a review for that, I’ll do it later though. This whole things stirs up the Chinatown case for Jake again, although his buddy Walsh (played by the same guy who played him in Chinatown no less) tells him to lay off that since it was more than a decade ago. Jake doesn’t because these guys never can, it’s part of the mold.

I have a connection to the Hudson Motor Car Company, so I’m always glad to see them get a mention.

Jake decides to go on a journey of remembrances, seeing the butler from Chinatown to talk about the old days. He then asks him about Katherine Mulwray, which causes the butler to change the subject in a very suspicious manner. Since the old butler is played by James Hong, I keep expecting him to claim that he just makes eyes while he’s being interrogated. No, you can look it up. I’m not going to hold your hand while the internet is around. While you’re looking him up, you might take the time to notice that he’s done more than one or two movies. Geeks will remember the one movie he did, maybe a second movie, but a lot of this man’s hard work will be forgotten because they’ve only seen those couple of movies. Sad really. Blade Runner and Big Trouble in Little China, which two were you thinking of?

No, I will not say “I just do eyes.” for you.

So what does Jake find waiting for him when he gets back to his office? A local gangster named Mickey who beats Jake up while asking for the wire Jake made. Then the partner’s wife turns up asking for the recording as well. Everyone keeps calling it a tape, but it’s really a wire recording. Everyone seems to want this recording really badly, everyone seems to have an idea it would prove this thing or that thing. He doesn’t give her the wire, but he lets her listen to it. It’s nice that we get to hear this recording yet again. It’s a realistically lousy recording, and that makes is really terrible to listen to. I know it’s a plot point, but it’s sort of painful to listen to. The widow has so much trouble listening to it, she has no choice but to jump Jake’s bones. It’s actually sort of funny, because Jake’s too old to jump her on his own and can’t undress her without help from her. Granted, underclothing of that time was tough to deal with, but it’s really that one of those guys whose supposed to be the sexiest in the world is aging to the point where banging a hot babe is wearing him out and giving him some trouble.

See, her hair is down, that means they “did it” in the previous scene.

We cut from that to the next bit of plot, or another clue if you like. It seems that Katherine Mulwray signed away the rights to her land to Mickey the gangster, who then signed them over to Jake 2. This is important, this is a clue! We don’t dwell on what it means, because Jake has people to follow! He follows one of the lawyers, but I’ve sort of missed which one. I mean, I caught the name, but I’ve missed where he fits into all of this. Jake then talks to the little guy who’s always in these movies. He was the guy who told us about the gas earlier, remember? Their conversation doesn’t come to much, and Jake has to go talk to Jake 2’s wife and ask her a bunch of questions. Then, with no other recourse, he’s forced to actually do some detective work and ask a few questions of people. He manages to go talk to a few people who tell him a few things, including a notary public who got his jaw broken for talking to people.

He stood stoically resolute, even though his shorts were filled with tuna salad.

He then goes and talks to the oil baron, who we saw earlier but I forgot to mention. That’s the problem with a movie like this, it keeps hurling characters at you and only telling you their name in the narration. This makes it easy to miss their names and that an important character has been introduced. You remember the little guy I mentioned before? Jake meets him in a gay bar and they discuss the fact that the oil baron is drilling under the new homes development (see a couple of paragraphs ago, and probably take a drink if you’re playing a drinking game with this) and then Mickey the gangster shows up again and takes Jake into the back room and accuses him of trying to blackmail Jake 2. Before they can beat Jake up, the cops raid the place and take everyone in. Then Tom Waits shows up and has a few lines. What the hell is Tom Waits doing here? I always have that feeling when Tom Waits is in a movie. I know he’s been in lots of movies, but I still have that feeling all the same. Even when I know ahead of time I still have a moment of “What the hell is Tom Waits doing here?” when I see him on screen. Can’t explain it, but there it is.

Seriously, what the hell is Tom Waits doing here?

Anyway, Jake and the young cop he looks like a square-jawed version of Robert Wuhl bate each other until Jake wins by getting the young cop to slug him. Jake hits him back the young cop pulls his gun and Jake snatches it away from him. He then tells the young cop to suck the barrel of the gun, which causes the kid to piss his pants. As he’s being dragged out of the room, Jake noticed some delivery guys and that reminds him about someone telling him about people from Bay City Linen making deliveries which in turn informs him that they delivered a chair to the hotel room (from the beginning) and that was where the gun that was used in the shooting was hidden. Look, if you’re not playing a drinking game, can I have your bottle of hooch? I’m starting to think I need a drink here. He goes and tells Jake 2’s wife about it just as Jake 2 shows up, leaving her someone annoyed at him. He tells Jake 2 that they can talk it out on the golf course. I’d like to think I’m being too complicated, but this movie IS complicated. Besides, most of you are just skimming to look at the pictures and read the funny captions.

No, I can’t say I have ever thought of all these huge, hard shafts slamming into dark, wet holes as a metaphor. Why do you ask?

Well it turns out that, according to Jake 2, Katherine Mulwray suggested the land swap the way it worked out in the backstory. Jake 2 collapses on the golf course and his guys take him to the hospital. Jake goes and checks out the hospital, discovering something but I don’t know what yet. I assume they’ll drop it on us in a long, drawn out scene. One of those long scenes comes along and Jake 2’s wife explains to Jake (1) that she really was screwing around on him. She then accidentally tips the fact that she, Jake 2’s wife is also Katherine Mulwray, (duhn dun DAAAAHHH) who Jake has been looking for this whole movie. You may remember, she was in Chinatown as well, but as I haven’t reviewed that movie, I won’t spoil it for you. I will only say that she’s was either the daughter or the sister of Jake’s love interest in that movie. This changes everything. Jake doesn’t go so far as to say “shit just got real” or anything, but he might as well have. They have a bit of talk, she tells him to turn over the tapes to the police and then she leaves.

“We’re here to make a ‘delivery’ ma’am… bow-chicka-bow-wow!”
“Steve, shut up.”

So we get to the trial, and they play the recording, which I am getting really tired of hearing by this point. It’s different this time though, we’re listening to an edited highlight version of the tape this time. Despite the fact that the audience has the whole tape memorized by now, the partner’s wife comments to everyone sitting next to her that it’s not the same tape. I don’t like the leading of the audience in scenes like these, we’ve heard the tape enough to know it’s not the same tape, we don’t need it punctuated for us. When she jumps up and cries out that it’s not the same tape, that would be enough. Anyway, when questioned about it, Jake lies through his teeth and gets Jake 2 off. This leads Jake meeting Jake 2 at the housing development to ask what the whole thing with the hospital was about. So Jake 2 tells him he’s got syphilis, which he tired to get it treated with radium which just gave him cancer instead. He also explains that the partner’s plan was to blackmail Jake 2 and Katherine Mulwray to get the mineral rights for her land. So, Jake 2 killed him so she wouldn’t be threatened by the partner after he (Jake 2) died.

No, it’s just some medication I took earlier. Your story is fascinating, please go on.

Another earthquake hits just as everything has been revealed, which brings a lot of oil and gas up through the pipes. A lot of natural gas fills the house and Jake 2 decides he wants a smoke so there won’t be an autopsy. Jake and Mickey take off as Jake 2 lights up his final cigarette and in the bargain blows the house up. Jake plays yet another recoding for Katherine Mulwray, where Jake 2 explains everything to her. At this point the mystery is explained and everything is understood, except why the oil baron was part of this story. He could have been completely cut out and it wouldn’t have hurt the story even a little bit. Besides that though, this isn’t as bad a movie as I’d been lead to believe. In fact, in many ways it’s pretty good. It’s just not as good as Chinatown was. It needed a little trimming and a little tightening, but over all it was okay.

I’ve told them that pimping isn’t easy, but they never listen do they?

Official Score:
51 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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