When Jimmy Jayne is the only suspect in the gruesome deaths of four women, the disaffected ex-con sets out to clear his name by plunging headfirst into the criminal world he’d managed to escape.
Devon Sawa is the beleaguered Jimmy. The film, by director Edward Drake, is Gasoline Alley.
If that title brings to mind black and white noir films of the past, it’s no coincidence.
Drake set out to make a neo-noir set in a version of Los Angeles about how far men will go when pushed to their limits.
Tattoo artist Jimmy drives a classic Chevelle muscle car and sports rockabilly shirts, smoking continuously. Most of what is said on screen is through actions and mood, and Sawa captures it effortlessly.
Luke Wilson and Bruce Willis are detectives Vargas and Freeman, and like Jimmy, they’re not easy to pin down.
Each of the three men dances with ambiguity, leaving viewers guessing where they stand. As their stories progress and the violence increases, each man begins to reveal their true nature, whether hero, antihero or downright villain.
As with all noir films, the cinematography is imperative. Director of Photography Brandon Cox brings beauty to dusty streets and blood-soaked skin, while playing with light and shadows for evocative shots lit by spotlights and the flashing array of colors from squad cars.
Sawa carries the movie with his piercing gaze and minimal but gruff dialogue, while German actress Irina Antonenko stands out as Star, briefly connecting with Jimmy before becoming a victim he’s under suspicion of killing.
The working girl with dreams of making it big has to grab viewers’ attention as she did Jimmy’s, as the whole movie stands on avenging her death, whether it’s overly understood or not.
Wilson uses his signature sardonic humor, propping up Willis, whose aphasia, although unknown at the time, was getting the better of him.
Drake chose Willis in spite of being less than the vivacious, cultural icon he’d been throughout his career for a role where speaking, which is what Willis’s diagnosis strips from the beloved actor, isn’t the most important method of communication.
As such, Willis’s performance is a bittersweet reminder of the great talent we’ve enjoyed for decades with a dignified role in which the director understood how to make him shine.
Gasoline Alley isn’t a great movie, but it isn’t bad, either. It’s a visual delight, and it’s hard not to appreciate Drake’s vision of Los Angeles, filmed entirely in Georgia.
Sawa gives a memorable performance, and Wilson is exactly what you expect of a good-natured detective, and standing alongside icon Willis makes everyone look good.
Get the popcorn out and dive into Drake’s vision. It might surprise you.
Gasoline Alley is available now on Hulu.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.