Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine are electric in ‘Blood and Wine’

Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine in 'Blood and Wine'
Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine in ‘Blood and Wine’

Sometimes an actor can save a weakly-made film. In Bob Rafelson’s 1996 dud Blood and Wine, though, two of the greatest actors of all time, Michael Caine and Jack Nicholson, are left to work overtime. And the results still disappoint.

Nicholson is Alex Gates, a Florida wine dealer with a failing business and marriage. He and Victor Spansky (Caine) conspire to lift a million-dollar diamond necklace from the mansion of a rich family. But the lot requires so many twists, turns, conveniences and suspensions of disbelief that one is better left off forgetting the convoluted mess.

Also caught up in the crossfire are several other characters: Alex’s wife Suzanne (Judy Davis, always a marvel but wasted here), her son, and Alex’s stepson, Jason (Stephen Dorff), and Gabrielle, a nanny who becomes a pawn in Alex’s plan (Jennifer Lopez, generating some heat with Nicholson but failing to deliver one convincing line of dialogue at any turn).

Nicholson is, of course, sublime, on a roll after his triumph a year earlier in The Crossing Guard. He finds all the complexity – the desperation, the stubbornness, even the romantic side – of Alex. He courts Gabrielle as part of his scheme, and always keeps us guessing as to how much he is using her, and how much he is actually falling for her.

Caine is a perfect match for Nicholson. Victor is decadent as can be. He puts himself in violent situations uses his body as a punching bag and waste receptacle, and doesn’t waste a minute turning his violent hand on somebody else. Victor is a loser, but he knows it. For better or worse, he is a crook by nature, and will always walk the crooked path.

Rafelson is best known for his work from the 1970s, especially 1970’s Five Easy Pieces, one of Nicholson’s best performances. (The two have also worked on The King of Marvin GardensThe Postman Always Rings Twice remake, and Man Trouble.) His strength has always lain in character, rather than story structure, and at times, Blood appears too padded. Virtually all characters have some sort of connection o each other as a result. Dorff and Lopez do not always justify their characters’ motivations, but Davis is uncanny in the way she takes a nothing role and makes it worthwhile, reflecting Suzanne’s anger, betrayal and hurt. It’s a pleasure watching artisans like her, Caine and Nicholson at play; one only wishes they had a better game.

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