Traces of Red (1992) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Roger Ebert hit this one right on the head:

"Sometimes, watching a thriller, I'll realize it makes no sense at all - unless the killer was working closely with the screenwriter. "Traces of Red" is a movie like that. The movie mystifies you as it goes along, but that's nothing to the confusion you feel when it's over. It's not that you don't understand what happened. That's finally all too clear. It's that you can't understand how the killer was so clever that he was able to anticipate every twist and turn of those pursuing him, so that he could devote every action to the service of the movie's plot."

Roger was right that the various characters acted like characters in a movie rather than like real people, but the artificiality ran even deeper than that. The most irritating thing about it is that all the main characters in the film acted sleazy and mysterious at all times, so the screenwriter never pushed you in any special direction. If they all had moustaches, they would all have been twirling them in a cruel and sinister fashion.

James Belushi is a womanizing cop investigating a multiple homicide. All the clues seem to point back to him - the dead girls are his ex-lovers. Therefore, we assume, the killer is either mad at Belushi and trying to kill the people that Belushi loves, or else he's simply trying to frame Belushi himself.


  • Katheryn Culliver Pierce shows her breasts as a corpse.
  • Michelle Joyner shows her breasts in a sex scene, then later as a corpse
  • Lorraine Bracco wears a see-through skip and a white t-shirt without a bra.
  • Tony Goldwyn shows his buns when leaving the bed.
  • An unknown body double shows her breasts and the side of her hips in Lorraine Bracco's sex scene.

So it boils down to this:

  • Belushi's partner suspects Belushi's brother. This part was played by a tall good-looking guy who did not resemble Belushi's real-life brother, the late John Belushi.
  • Belushi himself suspects a fat mafioso with a grudge to settle.
  • Then, for a while, they both suspect Lorraine Bracco, as a high-spirited rich woman who managed to sleep with Belushi for a prolonged period without ever being the subject of any of the attacks. Is she jealous of the others? Bracco, for reasons not clear to me, managed to do a perfect impersonation of Melanie Griffith in this film, including the voice and the blond hair. I heard her voice and thought, "I didn't see Melanie in the cast". I looked at her, and still thought it was Melanie. Then I looked closer.
  • Then, Belushi starts to think that his own partner might be trying to frame him.
  • Or, is all that to throw us off the track, because Belushi really did it?

Any of these five characters may have been responsible. When we finally see which one, there is no great relief of suspense or pleasure of surprise. There was no puzzle to solve. There were no secret clues hidden in the script that allowed us to play along. It was simply a coin flip - which one did it? When they finally revealed the secret, I didn't care. I had no reason to suspect one over the others, but neither had I a reason to rule anyone out. The script was deliberately opaque and convoluted just for the sake of misdirecting the viewer. There weren't even really that many plot twists. Mostly, there were just small events that turned our suspicion from one suspect to another.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • bare bones, no widescreen

There was a big surprise at the end, and I was fooled by it, but I didn't care.

I don't understand why they took this excessively complicated script, miscast Jim Belushi as a suave ladies man, then kept him from being funny. If he had cast a consistently wry eye on the proceedings, it might have been an entertaining movie. As it stands, it is a pure formula film - "hard-boiled detective narrates bittersweet, complicated adventure or love and betrayal over sad saxophone score". 

In fact, I was surprised to discover that this film had a theatrical release. Before I researched it, I had assumed it was a straight-to-vid or made-for-cable.

The Critics Vote

  • Ebert 2/4

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: $3 million domestic gross


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-. Routine crime/suspense/thriller in which the actions of the characters are only those necessary to advance a contrived plot.

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