China Moon (1994) – A Review
Ed Harris and Benecio Del Toro are homicide detectives working the beat in Florida. Harris is the older, more experienced cop trying to school the more novice Del Toro in how to crack cases. Harris’ motto when it comes to murderers is that they always make a mistake and it’s up to them to spot it.
On his off hours Harris meets beautiful Madeleine Stowe, who’s in an abusive marriage to rich Charles Dance. Harris and Stowe begin an affair and both try to figure out a way to live happily ever. She becomes convinced to leave Dance in the dust and to leave him for Harris. Before she can manage that she accidentally kills Dance. Her committing murder has really messed up Harris’ hoped for sunny future with her.
No worries. Harris helps to cover up the murder and being a cop on the case he should be able to steer any suspicion away from Stowe and the pair could get out from under this. However, Del Toro starts to piece this case together and suspicion begins to fall towards Harris. Then to his surprise, Harris discovers evidence popping up that points to him as the killer and questions everything Stowe has told him. Could it be he was meant to been set up to take the fall for this premeditated murder from the start?
China Moon was a small film that was made in 1991 and ended up sitting on the shelf for several years when studio Orion filed for bankruptcy. It finally got released a few years later, but didn’t make a ripple and has since become a forgotten film.
It’s no surprise why the film never got much attention. Despite a good cast, China Moon is a very disposable neo-noir thriller that doesn’t really go anywhere or has much going for it other than a good cast.
Watching it, I thought it seemed like they were trying to go for a Body Heat and Double Indemnity vibe, but it’s nowhere near as erotic or gripping than either. It’s like a poor man’s version of them both.
The story is a standard noir tale – a murder committed, covering it up, an investigation commences, faux pas’ made, partners in crime question whether they can trust one another as the police close in finding them out, a poor sap potentially being used by a beautiful woman. It’s fine, but the fun of that tale is the execution of the story. With China Moon it’s so by the numbers and doesn’t offer any suspense I found myself drifting off quite easily.
It’s almost like they forgot to add any unique florishes and they filmed the basics of this type of story. There’s really no meat on the bone to sink your teeth into with this noir tale.
Even when the point arrives where the police start looking towards Harris as a culprit and the heat starts to rain on him, there’s very little drama or tension that comes from it.
It’s a shame, I like all these actors and would’ve loved to have seen them play in an entertaining crime drama. They’re all fine with what they’re given, although not one character stands out and there’s no real notable moments for any of them. I’m sure the cast could have handled being given so much more, but it’s just not here for them.
The story they were given wasn’t worth their talents. The most notable thing is the central Florida setting that helps creates more of a mood than anything else. There’s no style to the film, no memorable lines, no interesting twists and the ending feels like a rushed conclusion to a pretty cookie cutter crime story that will probably leave you saying to yourself, “So, that was it?”.
China Moon might work better for more casual audiences, but film fans who’ve experienced the heights of great film noir tales and seen how entertaining and rich similar stories like this has been done will probably be unimpressed with anything in this and easily put it back into the forgotten crack where they stumbled onto it – exactly like I’ve done.