From the golden age of late night, straight-to-video Cinemax comes Saints and Sinners!
After spending years away, Pooch (Damian Chapa) has finally returned to the old neighborhood. As soon as he returns, he partners up with his childhood best friend, Big Boy (Scott Plank). The violent and erratic Big Boy is a low-level gangster with big plans. He wants to take over the neighborhood and he’s sure that, working with the level-headed Pooch, he’ll be unstoppable. Complicating matters is that both Pooch and Big Boy have fallen for the same woman, the mysterious Eva (Jennifer Rubin) and, quicker than you can say Jules and Jim, all three of them are soon sharing a bed. Complicating matters even further is the fact that Pooch is an undercover cop who has recently been caught up in a corruption sting. His superiors have given him a choice. He can either help them take down Big Boy or he can go to jail himself.
Though the plot of Saints and Sinners may seem familiar (think of it as being a low-budget version of the Sean Penn/Gary Oldman gangster flick ,State of Grace), it’s distinguished by gritty locations, energetic direction, and two good performances from Damian Chapa and Scott Plank. But, to be honest, Jennifer Rubin was the main reason that 14 year-old me used to stay up to watch this movie on Cinemax. In the role of Eva, she’s sexy, enigmatic, and potentially dangerous. You’re never sure what her game is and, as a result, the movie is not as predictable as you might expect it to be. Jennifer Rubin was one of the best of the femme fatales to appear in the straight-to-video neo-noirs of the 1990s and shes’ at her best and most uninhibited here.
Saints and Sinners may not have many saints but it has enough sin that it doesn’t matter.
Jennifer Rubin in Saints and Sinners
When she was a young girl, Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin) was a member of Unity Fields, a group of hippies led by the insane Franklin Harris (Richard Lynch). When Harris ordered the cult to join him in a fiery suicide pact, Cynthia was the only one to refuse. While all of the cult members when up in flames, Cynthia ended up spending 13 years in a coma. When she wakes up, she has no memory of the incident and finds herself as a patient in a psych ward. She has a support group to provide therapy. She has two doctors (Bruce Abbott and Harris Yulin) watching her every move. And she still has nightmares and visions of the long-dead Harris, appearing around the hospital, sometimes burned and sometimes not. When the members of her therapy group start to die, Cynthia is convinced that Harris has returned to claim her.
A year before starring in Bad Dreams, Jennifer Rubin made her film debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. That seems appropriate because Bad Dreams would never have existed if not for A Nightmare on Elm Street. Franklin Harris is only a few bad jokes and a razor blade glove away from being Freddy Krueger’s older brother. However, if you can see past the movie’s derivative nature, Bad Dreams is not bad. Some of the deaths are inventive and Jennifer Rubin shows why she should have become a bigger star than she did. Though Franklin Harris may have been developed as stand-in for Freddy, Richard Lynch is memorably menacing and makes the role his own. Bad Dreams may have been a clone of another film but not all clones are bad.
Travis Graham (Stephen Baldwin, before he found God) is a doofus who owns a farm. His late father sent all of the family’s money to a crooked televangelist but he did leave Travis a valuable coin collection. But then two blondes enter his life. Kelly Ann (Jennifer Rubin) is a penniless hitchhiker who needs a place to stay and a bed to sleep in. Jolene (Patsy Kensit) is a British realtor who says she wants to help Travis sell his farm. Faster than you can say “I don’t know the exact pronunciation but I believe it’s ménage à trois,” that’s exactly what happens. Travis can’t believe his luck but it turns out that Kelly Ann and Jolene have plans of their own. Then, in a strangely unrelated subplot, a banker robber who shot the local sheriff (M. Emmett Walsh) shows up at the farm. Travis kills the bank robber but then Kelly Ann and Jolene start pressuring him to use the robber’s plan to rob a bank himself.
This is one of the many strange movies from the increasingly strange career of Stephen Baldwin. Now that he’s best known for evangelizing and appearing in celebrity-themed reality shows (including, most infamously, two seasons of The Celebrity Apprentice), it is easy to forget that Stephen Baldwin was once a good character actor who, with the exception of The Usual Suspects, apparently could not pick a good script if his life depended upon it. His performance as the socially backward Travis is often strange (at times, he seems to be channeling Lenny from Of Mice and Men) but always interesting. Fans of 90s neo-noir will also be happy to see Delusion’s Jennifer Rubin, playing yet another mysterious and dangerous temptress. Unfortunately, Bitter Harvest falls apart because of an implausible script and too many loose ends but, until it does, the sultry combination of Jennifer Rubin and Patsky Kensit keeps things watchable.
One final note: The sheriff’s son is played by Adam Baldwin. Even though the two are not actually related, everyone in the 90s assumed that they were and this makes Bitter Harvest a double Baldwin film.
George O’Brien (Jim Metzler) is a former executive at a San Diego computer company who is driving across Nevada. He is heading to Reno, where he plans to set up a company with the embezzled millions that he has hidden in his trunk. When he spots former Vegas showgirl Patti (Jennifer Rubin) standing on the side of the road, he stops to pick her up. She explains that her car broke down and she needs a lift. George is happy to give her a ride. The only problem is that Patti is traveling with her boyfriend, Chevy (Kyle Secor). At first, Chevy just seems to be a goofy guy who talks too much. However, Chevy is actually a hitman, traveling to Vegas to kill a gangster (Jerry Orbach). After the hit, Chevy abandons George in the desert and steals his car. Determined to get his money, George pursues Chevy and Patty across the desert.
Starting like a caper film and ending like a spaghetti western, Delusion was one of the best (and most overlooked) of the many low-budget neo-noirs that came out during the first half of the 1990s. While the underrated Metzler and Secor both give good performances, Delusion is stolen by Jennifer Rubin, who is sexy, funny, and unpredictable as Patti. The scene where she performs These Boots Are For Walking is one of the best of the 90s. Whatever happened to her?
And why hasn’t this excellent retro thriller been given a proper release on DVD or Blu-ray? If any movie is deserves to be rediscovered via a special edition, it’s Delusion.