Upon release, most films are viewed, reviewed, generate a bit of money for those who financed them and then move into the gradual denouement of a second life of streaming services and DVD collections. But some films have a higher calling; The Poison Rose is one of these rare films of destiny. Its ultimate end is not, however, to be celebrated at the Academy Awards but rather to be lampooned via such media as the podcast “How Did This Get Made?”

To call The Poison Rose a bad movie is both to wildly understate just how terrible it is while also failing to mention that it remains oddly entertaining. It is entertaining neither because it is a so-called “Good Bad Movie” nor because it is some campish embrace of Hollywood thrillers. No, the reason the film is able to captivate a viewer resides in just how seriously it takes its batshit-crazy plot and ridiculous characters. The Poison Rose is amusing simply because, in our era of hyper self-awareness and obsession with meta-ness, it has no idea that it makes no sense, features exactly zero characters who seem remotely human and has no connection to reality. No one here is having fun and few seem to realize just how stupid the movie and their character in that movie are, and there is something admirable in that fidelity to an absolutely doomed enterprise.

The Poison Rose is a period piece – though why the film is set in the ‘70s is never clear – where John Travolta plays a Texas-born, former star quarterback turned jaded California private investigator named Carson Phillips who claims in voiceover narration early in the film to have drunk enough bourbon to fill the Cotton Bowl. But a mysterious femme fatale has commissioned him to return home to Galveston to find a missing woman last seen being admitted to a sanatorium. It is a battle-tested film premise and the ’70s setting promises some combination of Chinatown, Night Moves and Inherent Vice. As for the fulfillment of that promise…it is not quite to that level.

For the next 90 minutes viewers get to watch Travolta mumble his way through a labyrinthine investigation involving an illegal gambling den run by Morgan Freeman, the sanatorium headed by Brendan Fraser, who dresses like Chaplin, talks like Gump and moves like Nosferatu, Travolta’s ex-girlfriend/widow of the local oil baron, a corrupt local sheriff and, of course, the new star quarterback breaking all of Travolta’s records. It is basically a Jackson Pollock of Texas-themed Americana horseshit, the fever dream of a conspiracy nut selling trinkets out the back of his van in a parking lot at South by Southwest.

Because this movie is unspoilable due to the fact that no one who will ever see it could possibly care about the plot, here is a brief summary of what Travolta finds in his investigation: the new hotshot quarterback is also a philandering (that’s right: he is married; has a star college quarterback in real life ever been married?) gambling-addict pill-popper who owes major money to illegal-casino-operator Freeman, so he gets drugs from Fraser, who is using his sanatorium as a front for both medical fraud and a meth lab and whose leading drug dealer also owes Freeman money and then he dies in the “big game” after a hit that reportedly broke both his collarbone and his femur (a brief aside here: I played college football and I can definitively say that it is virtually impossible for a single tackle to break both one’s collarbone and one’s femur), thereby enriching Galveston’s power brokers. To further complicate this already too-dense tangle of ridiculous plot points, the quarterback’s death was actually arranged by Travolta’s former beau because she is dying of cancer (because her dead oil magnate husband poisoned the groundwater and gave cancer to half the town) and she wants to free her daughter, who is the unfortunate wife of the quarterback – the quarterback is also a wife-beater – from his violence in the future. But wait, there are more layers: Travolta is actually the biological father of the woman married to the quarterback (and the actress who plays that character is Travolta’s real-life daughter, Ella Bleu Travolta!) and Travolta is also being chased by hitmen from California because of a job he completed there before the events of the movie.

This does not even scratch the surface of the inanity of The Poison Rose. No, truly! For instance, at one point Travolta evades murder-by-sniper-rifle by striking his would-be killer in the face with a well-thrown football. Further making this ridiculous is Travolta’s throwing motion: he certainly does not toss a pigskin like someone who nearly won a Heisman. There are dozens of such issues one could raise about this film; there is likely not a single minute among its 93 that does not contain at least one inconsistency, absurd moment or other unintentionally comedic sequence.

The Poison Rose is not a film that anyone should recommend, but it is probably worth seeing for those with the stomach for it just because everyone should witness what it looks like when someone tries to compress an entire season of a soap opera into a single feature-length film.

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One Comment

  1. Katy

    March 7, 2020 at 11:56 am

    What a stinker almost as bad as that Trading Paint he made in Alabama. He is scraping the bottom these days.


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