Arizona Son: The Cardone Files Vol. 4 — Exit in Red (1996) (or, ‘Oh Mickey, Not So Fine’)

Not everything that J.S. Cardone touched turned to gold as this hokey Mickey Rourke vehicle demonstrates...

During an interview with Pat Jordan of the New York Times in November 2008 [1], Mickey Rourke admitted that he had absolutely no recollection of making EXIT IN RED (1996). Perhaps that was a good thing, because Jordan went on to describe his performance as that of a “preening fop” before stating that Rourke was “merely imitating his good acting in broad strokes, capturing his earlier stylized cool, his smile, his gestures, his mumbling, with none of the depth of character that he exhibited in Body Heat (1981) or Diner (1982).”

While the late noughties had Joe Cardone forego the directors’ chair in favour of scripting duty, most notably with the big-budget horror remakes Prom Night (2008) and The Stepfather (2009), the first two decades of the filmmaker’s career had always seen him direct his own screenplays. Exit in Red proved to be the first of a series of exceptions to the rule, but things had changed for Cardone since the early days of being a gun for hire for folk like Menahem Golan and Charlie Band. Shadowhunter (1993) had led to the formation of Sandstorm Films, a production company headed by Cardone and his wife, Carol Kottenbrook, and it provided the writer-director with a welcome opportunity to move away from the coal face.  

That was certainly the case with Exit in Red. Polish filmmaker Yurek Bogayevicz had risen to prominence with his debut picture Anna (1987), which had led to an Oscar nomination for Sally Kirkland, and this wayward neo-noir saw him paired with screenwriter David Womark, whose only prior filmed script was Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars (1986). Cardone is content with both an executive producer and storyline credit, but his absence leaves a weighty void, and the result is a shallow and over-stylised thriller that clearly misses its progenitor.

“Exit in Red?” ponders Cardone before a moment of silence. “You’re talking about the stepchild?”

“I should have used a pseudonym on this like I did a few other films… Womark was my assistant director on Thunder Alley (1985). He got married and moved into our guest house in Culver City and we became good friends and played basketball every morning, and he wanted to become a director. To do so, you have to write something that somebody wants to make. We got together, and came up with Exit in Red.”

“I’d been a huge fan of Mickey’s since The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), and we’d put it out there with the idea of David directing. However, things quickly went south. Mickey was crazy at the time. His idea of developing the role was that he was only going to say every third line or something [laughs]. I don’t know. Anthony Michael Hall, he was good, but to be perfectly honest, it was just something that we gradually backed away from.”

“There was another programmer that we made for Sony, which I originally wrote as ‘The Painter’, then someone else came in and totally fucked that film up. It happens.”

Rourke’s character is Ed Altman: a shades-wearing psychiatrist who’s operating against an allegation of sexual misconduct – “Women are an addiction, and I’ve dealt with a lot of addictions in my career”. So he heads out to the desert where he’s employed in a practice owned by the virtuous Dr. Wayland (Hank Garrett), where his first – and seemingly only – patient is Ally Mercer (Annabel Schofield): a seductive femme fatale about to frame the good doctor for murder…

Schofield is without doubt the standout; a true siren who lights up every scene with her unfaltering beauty. Alas, it’s largely wasted opposite a lifeless and self-consumed Rourke. Such is the opulent nature of his garish, distracting and ever-changing wardrobe you’d think he was about to strut (or maybe stagger) along the catwalk in Milan.

Although the core of Exit in Red is rooted in neo-noir, Cardone’s natural eye for the fabric of the genre is absent in the hands of Bogayevicz. Whether it be the Arizona desert of Black Day Blue Night (1995) or the metropolitan bustle of True Blue (2001), Cardone had an unswerving ability to craft a sweaty and duplicitous tale of intrigue. This, though, remains a somewhat sterile picture that fails to make a narrative loaded with potential in any way memorable.

[1] His Fists Are Up and His Guard Is Down by Pat Jordan, The New York Times Magazine, 28th November 2008.

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