Home Video Hovel- The Girl from the Naked Eye, by Matt Warren
The Girl From the Naked Eye isn’t a good movie, but it’s not terrible. But really, it would be better if it were worse. If a movie isn’t so-bad-it’s-good, doesn’t that make it worse than awful? Competent, yet fundamentally lacking some essential spark, Naked Eye falls squarely in the middling no-mans-land of direct-to-market genre filmmaking: a perfectly entertainment-neutral piece of B-movie kung-fu noir. I’m sure that with a bigger budget and better script director David Ren is capable of making something excellent, but this isn’t it. Naked Eye seems like an ambitious screen test blown up feature size—like an overlong Vimeo resume which, through some clerical error, has now been distributed commercially.
The plot is pure postmodern pulp. Jake (Jason Yee) is a stoic, two-bit gambler who gets in deep with the mob. Forced to pay off his debts, J. takes a job with sleazy—not that there’s really any other kind—strip-club impresario Simon (Ron Yuan.) Sullenly driving around the perpetually darkened streets of Naked Eye’s art deco urban hellscape of a setting, Jake works as a chauffer/bodyguard for the club’s off-the-books prostitution ring. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before Jake falls for one of the working girls—in this case Sandy (Samantha Streets), a fantastically innocent young runaway with a heart made out of some sort of malleable, highly conductive precious metal. Probably gold.
Alas, the film opens with a distraught Jake hovering over Sandy’s dead body. She’s been shot. Released from police custody after questioning, Jake goes rogue, setting off to find out who killed his girl, and why. Needless to say, answering those questions creates problems for the stability of Simon’s empire, requiring him to dispatch an army of tough-talking goons to keep his wayward employee from digging to too deep. Scenes of Jake investigating Sandy’s murder are intercut with flashbacks to their doomed courtship, where we learn that Jake may be more responsible for Sandy’s fate than he thinks.
As you can probably guess from The Girl From the Naked Eye’s DVD box, the film’s visual style is highly derivative of Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 dames-and-disembowelments classic Sin City. Though similarly artificial, Naked Eye lacks Sin City’s overconfident eccentricity. Love it or hate it, Rodgriquez’s film aimed for heightened reality and achieved a fascinating level of self-conscious noir camp that cannot be denied. The Girl From the Naked Eye just feels cheap, like the filmmakers couldn’t afford to create a fully immersive world, and instead erred on the side of cartooniness to paste over the film’s shortcomings. Even the squib hit sound thin and tinny, like Ren & Co. forgot to add in sound effects for actual gunfire.
You might be wondering why I haven’t yet mentioned ostensible co-stars Sasha Grey and Dominique Swain. That’s because though they feature prominently on the DVD box, both actors are barely in the movie at all. Grey is little more than a featured extra, and Swain’s utterly tangential role seems absolutely written in to the script after the fact. As the leads, Streets and Yee (who co-wrote the script with Ren and Larry Madill) are likeable, despite delivering what I guess—technically—are bad performances. Yuan fares best as the villainous Simon, and earn extra credit for choreographing the movie’s hand-to-hand combat scenes, which are undeniably effective.
The Girl From the Naked Eye is more or less a collection of cut scenes in search of a videogame. I’m not sure who the audience is for this film, but it’s hard to think that whoever they are, that they couldn’t find something more exciting to watch.