Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pulp in the City: The Girl from the Naked Eye

In Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa, a petty criminal forms an ambiguous bond with the upscale sex-worker he is hired to drive.  It is a good movie, so try to forget it, temporarily.  While their relationship is superficially similar, this tale of a working woman and her driver is all about pulp and revenge.  Yes, the title character will unfortunately only be appearing in flashbacks throughout David Ren’s The Girl from the Naked Eye, which opens this Friday in New York.

A self-described hash-up, Jake is taking the death of his high class "working-girl" associate Sandy rather hard.  Deep in debt to the mob, he took a job with the Naked Eye, a strip club whose sleazy proprietor Simon makes his real money running the top performers to private clients.  Jake used to be Sandy’s driver, but requested a new assignment right before her murder.  His feelings for her will become clear from his series of ruminative flashbacks. 

In the present day, Jake only has one concern: making the killer pay.  Obviously, he wants to know who saw her last, but Simon will not willingly give up her client list.  A savage beat-down later, Jake is on the trail, but he will have to contend with Simon’s thugs and his crooked cop partner, who is in serious damage control mode.

This must strip club week for the indie movie release beat, with Eye hitting theaters along with Mathieu Demy’s more heralded Americano.  Ironically, Eye’s lack of pretense earns it a limited nod over its self-serious French competitor.  Though far from classic, at least it feels no need to apologize for some lurid material and a little violence.

Indeed, action director-co-star Ron Yuan makes several key contributions, including an inventively staged decidedly un-Raid-like fight sequence, in which Jake and four security guards all become increasingly battered and exhausted as it stretches on.  He also gives the film a jolt of energy as Simon, delivering a surprising number of laughs and developing real anti-chemistry with Brandy Grace, who makes quite an impression as Angela, his caustic lover and top earner.

Eye also features two entertaining more-or-less cameos, including Sasha Grey, appearing fully clothed as a bystander in Simon’s hotel for sex-workers.  Dominique Swain has a bit more substantial role as Alissa, a not yet disillusioned lady of the evening, who gives the dense Jake a few helpful tips, via Nancy Drew.  Both give brief lifts to the film’s moody seediness.  Every bit helps, especially since leads Jason Yee and Samantha Street are bit bland in their dramatic scenes together as Jake and Sandy.  Still, the former is quite convincing in his action scenes.

Trying too hard to be noir, Eye is weighed down by narration that would be over the top even for a parody (which it might possibly be).  Nevertheless, the colorful supporting cast deserves props for embracing the grindhouse vibe.  Clearly a B-movie best saved for late night cable viewing, The Girl from the Naked Eye nonetheless opens this Friday (6/15) in New York at the AMC Empire.