Jack Grimaldi (Gary Oldman) is a ghost of a man these days, running a diner in the middle of nowhere and setting aside the dates of May the first and December the first for reasons best known to himself. It wasn't always like this, as Jack used to be a cop in New York City, and he had a moneymaking racket going on thanks to a deal he had made with the gangsters he was meant to be protecting the city against. Simply tell them where those arrested associates who were going to spill the beans were kept in hiding, and he could sit back and count the readies. But when the subject of hitwoman Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin) arose...
Let's just say he would have been better off out of it, as once she entered the picture Jack's chickens came home to roost in disastrous fashion. Romeo is Bleeding was part of that nineties movie phenomenon known as neo-noir, which had its roots in the forties movement of bleak, shadowy thrillers, yet coupled that to the eighties preference for violence and sex as flavour to such possibly hackneyed plots. It was scripted by Hilary Henkin, also producer here, and she had made her name in cult movie circles as the writer of Road House, though in this case the results were nowhere near a pop culture touchstone for action movie fans that had been.
Nevertheless, stick with Romeo is Bleeding because after a long stretch where it's well established how sorry for himself Oldman's Jack is feeling, things got far more memorable. So morose was this that when Olin appeared it was as if a ray of devilish sunshine had been shone into the story as she giggles and laughs her way through the role that sparks the film into life. Jack was supposed to be looking after Mona, but when his colleagues enter the room, they find her straddling him and simultaneously trying to shag him and get hold of his gun, chortling all the time - she likes a laugh, does Mona, hinting broadly that this Russian gangster is actually utterly insane.
But she's not the only woman in Jack's life, as he has his wife Natalie (Annabella Sciorra) at home, saddled with the noble person he should have been looking after all along role which is a bit dull but turns infinitely preferable to what Mona has in store. Then there's his mistress Sheri (Juliette Lewis), who fills the purpose of making you wonder if Jack is all right in the head that he would cheat on Natalie at all. But of course, he's not all right, as his mind has been corrupted by the baser elements in life such as greed and lust, and he will suffer mightily for it. When the man offering him a wodge of cash, mob boss Roy Scheider almost stealing the film in one very well written scene, tells him there is more to their deal than Jack realised, he might as well have said "Welcome to Hell".
This is thanks to Jack being the man who is supposed to execute Mona so she doesn't talk, and understandably she's none too keen on the idea, so brings her feminine wiles to bear in such a manner that messes with the hapless cop's mind. It also leads to an incredible scene, previewed in the first five minutes, which states outright that this is a film about how much damage people can do to one another, physical as well as emotional. So with Jack trying to cover up the fact that he's letting Mona go, she wants to cover her own tracks and bump him off, which is why she attempts to strangle him with her legs while handcuffed in the back seat of her car as he drives away at high speed; you can tell Henkin had fun writing business like this, and it just gets kinkier. The drawback is that it may be strong on the violence side of things, but when it comes to nudging the audience in the direction of sadness the sprightliness elsewhere turns to leaden heartstring-tugging. When it's good, it's very good, when it's bad, it... could have been better, with the stars seemingly acting in different movies. Music by Mark Isham.