I spent the past three days watching three movies filmed in Spokane: “Lies & Illusions,” “Wrong Turn at Tahoe” and “Give ’em Hell, Malone.”
Why? So you don’t have to.
I’m doing this as a public service, to report back on how our fair city fares on the big screen, I mean, small screen. All three of these movies went straight to DVD.
They’re all low-budget “action” movies with star wattage ranging from moderate (Christian Slater and Cuba Gooding Jr.) to even more moderate (Thomas Jane).
All three are loaded with car chases, fight scenes and kill shots. The bloody deaths reach into the dozens – sometimes before the opening credits. Their cinematic styles range from comic-book-noir (“Malone”) to thriller-with- humorous-quips (“Lies”) to Tarantino-Lite (“Tahoe”).
But I’m here to rate them strictly as showcases for Spokane, which, in the case of “Wrong Turn at Tahoe,” presents particular problems. This movie, starring Gooding and Harvey Keitel, was filmed entirely in Spokane, yet the setting is … New York.
Call it “Pulp Fiction” meets “The Sopranos” meets “low budget.”
Alert readers will immediately grasp the problem: Spokane resembles New York as Harvey Keitel resembles Catherine Zeta-Jones. The producers solved this problem by (1) shooting most of it indoors, and (2) fitting the cars with New York license plates.
The challenges were magnified by the fact that “Tahoe” was shot at the tail end of our brutal 2008-09 winter. When the movie ventures out on the street, you see mountainous piles of dirty snow. It doesn’t exactly scream Manhattan to me. Maybe northern Michigan.
“Give ’em Hell, Malone,” on the other hand, is set in an unspecified low-rent film-noir 1940s fantasy world. Spokane fills this bill quite nicely, mainly because the director stayed mostly within three blocks of the downtown railroad tracks. Massive chunks were filmed at the old Otis Hotel.
Spokane viewers will recognize their city immediately. Every other viewer will assume it’s set in a magical Raymond Chandler-land, if only Raymond Chandler had been a comic-book artist.
Which is why “Lies & Illusions” was so refreshing – and yet, so appalling.
Refreshing, because this Slater-Gooding movie is explicit about taking place right here in Spokane. Slater, a self-help novelist, drives into Spokane from Seattle early in the film to search for clues about his wife’s disappearance.
So nearly every scene is loaded with Spokane color. There’s a car chase through Riverfront Park; an escalator stunt at River Park Square; a girl-fight at O’Doherty’s Irish Grille; a shootout at the Red Lion River Inn; and an action-packed transaction at Washington Trust Bank.
The topper: a foot chase through the middle of Spokane’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Slater scampers through crowds of revelers and weaves between pickup truck “floats” (yeah, it’s our genuine St. Patrick’s Day Parade, all right).
And the most surprising thing of all: Spokane is not dismissed as Hicksville. One of the main characters utters, with complete sincerity, the following line: “I love this town.”
So “Lies & Illusions” doubles as an accurate visual document about what Spokane looked like, circa March 2008. We could all be proud of it.
Oh, except for that “appalling” part. “Lies & Illusions” is one dumb movie. They tried to turn it into a cross between an action movie and comedy. The unfortunate result: The action is laughable, but the comedy isn’t. This movie has a user rating of two stars out of five on Netflix. Here’s a typical comment: “Avoid this movie. Go to the dentist.”
So, sadly, this movie won’t prompt waves of cinema-fan tourists to pop in to O’Doherty’s to pay homage to its landmark girl-fight scene.
But all hope is not lost. Gooding is now back in Spokane to film another movie, “The Hit List,” possibly with Slater, too.
Here’s hoping “The Hit List” will be a hit. If not, here’s hoping that the setting will be “New York.”