The Two Jakes (1990) dir. Jack Nicholson
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe
“The Two Jakes”, the 1990 follow up to “Chinatown” arrived on DVD this week. Watching the film without any hype or fanfare (as it likely was in 1990) the films holds up pretty well in the tradition of the first film, but missing is the style and suspense which Polanski brought to the original classic.
It’s now 1948, post war L.A. Jake Gittes is still a gumshoe, with a large practice, P.I.s on the payroll and a swankier downtown office. He’s hired by another Jake (hence the title), Berman played by Harvey Keitel to catch his wife (Meg Tilly) cheating on him. Gittes indeed succeeds, but during the sting Berman shoots and kills the other man. When Gittes discovers the other man was Berman’s partner, like “Chinatown” he realizes he’s been used, played and swindled. Jake’s sleuthing skills unearths a labyrinth of lies and deceit that again involves the big business of Los Angeles’ natural resources (oil, this time).
Did “The Two Jakes” ever stand a chance of succeeding? To Jack Nicholson’s credit he gave it his best shot. His old producer buddies Harold Schneider and Robert Evans are along for the ride, as is the original writer Robert Towne. Original lensman John A. Alonzo was replaced by another fine 1970’s shooter Vilmos Zsigmond and of course, Roman Polanski wasn’t able to make the flight to L.A., so Jack himself took the helm behind the camera.
The story unveils itself well. Like in “Chinatown” Jake is taken advantage of and as a result an innocent man gets murdered. Jake, who makes a living exposing the infidelities and breaking up marriages, is awakened from slumber by the chance to exercise his latent personal ethics. The plot is a Byzantine concoction and virtually incomprehensible if you haven’t see the first film - and certainly more recently than 1974. The plot is thickened when Kathryn Mulwray (the incestual daughter of Faye Dunaway and John Huston’s characters from the first film) is mentioned by one of the characters before he’s killed. It’s easy to remember her now, when “Chinatown” is simultaneously re-released on DVD. But in 1990, was it available on VHS for a refresher viewing? I don’t know. Minor obscure characters like Escobar and Kahn pop up as well. These clever link ups are indeed fun.
The film loses steam once it crosses the 1:45min mark – when the film should have ended. Instead the film drags for another 30mins, when the full details of the big business urban planning scam are revealed. By this time, complete confusion and lack of interest set in for me.
It’s a noble effort, but ultimately “The Two Jakes” will join “The Godfather Part III” and the “Last Picture Show” follow up “Texasville” as unnecessary sequels from great 70’s films on the 3 for $20 shelves at Best Buy.
PS All three of these pseudo-sequels were coincidentally released in 1990. Weird.