This is not a bad B-flick.

It had the potential to be better than it was, but it falls into the trap — easy to do — of all films driven strongly by formula and typology.   The formula is that of the rogue cop wound too tight  and stepping outside procedures in order to get a job  done, and of son and father getting to know each  other;  the typology is that of the katabasis, the  hero’s journey through Hell on a quest, in this case the search for and exculpation of a son unjustly  accused of murder.

All that we have come to expect from  this typology is present:  the helping woman (Vera),  the underworld landscape (here a rock club named “The  Wreck”) of dark and dancing souls that gyrate, a nasty  Hades number named Gideon who has his two thugs in  constant attendance, the guardian Cerberus of the gates (a huge  bouncer who cards everyone entering), the hero’s  talisman (his police badge) for entry into the  underworld, a Persephone-like darkling named Eve who ‘belongs’ to Gideon but is rescued by the son, the  crucial help of a black cop friend (Oakes), and the  rehabilitation (= rebirth) of the detective himself.

As readers of these reviews will have recognized by now, the katabasis is an ancient literary typology and it is also astonishingly durable as template for film (not  only in detective stories, it should be noted).  The danger of excessive reliance on pattern, however, is  that spontaneity and inventiveness run the risk of  suppression:  form triumphs over substance.  Although  Conflict of Interest is not without merit in the  variations it runs on the theme, in the end it strikes  me as too deliberate, almost going out of its way to  assure us that, yes, this really is a katabasis film.

The acting by Christopher McDonald is overdone in parts to the point of melodrama, which is never good in a film that sets out to take itself seriously.  To be sure, the theme of reconciliation between son and father is of great antiquity and speaks to deep needs in human beings, but here one never gets a genuine sense that  this objective is anything but an adventitious part of a fancy formula.  Like Talons of the Eagle (1992),  for example, Conflict of Interest is ultimately  uninteresting because it is too categorical in the way it unfolds its story.  There is no deepening of the larger texture of the film nor any genuine concern  about the characters, who tend merely to be sketches of  general types.  The father’s uncontrollable rage, as an example, shows up too often and in too limited a range of stylization, and becomes, ultimately, quite tedious  —  one almost agrees with the crooked cops that Mickey is proctalgesic.

I grant that a nice twist on our expectations is the inversion whereby the son, initially the object of the  father’s frantic quest, becomes himself the quester and saves his father from making a huge mistake.  In the end, of course, father and son are reconciled to each other, and the former validates himself in the eyes of  son and society.

As an instance of decent formula film, Conflict of  Interest is worth the ninety minutes.  But if you’re looking for great cinematic art, this is hardly the one  for you.

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  1. heather says:

    One thing that is nice about B films, and predictably films in general, is that they offer few surprises. Sometimes you don’t want to think too much, sometimes you simply want a story to unfold as you expect. Kinda like the harlequin romance novels.

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