Dir/scr: Todd Robinson. US. 2006. 100mins.

Martha Beck and Raymond Martinez, otherwise known asthe "Lonely Hearts Killers", return foranother adaptation of their sex, murder and mayhem saga, which delighted theAmerican tabloids during the late 1940s before their eventual executions in1951. Neither as shocking nor as decadent and perverse as its two famousantecedents, Leonard Kastle's cult feature Honeymoon Killers (1970) and Arturo Ripstein's DeepCrimson (1996), Todd Robinson's directorial debut has a patina of glamourthanks to its stellar cast, but loses out by dividing its focus equally betweencops and criminals.

The obese, sex-starved Beckwould doubtless have been delighted to learn that SalmaHayek plays her here, while the toupee-wearing Martinez might have beensurprised to find traces of humanity in Jared Leto'scharacterisation of him.

The combined star wattage isbolstered by John Travolta, James Gandolfini andLaura Dern (all cast against type), who should drawattention in the early stages of initial LonelyHearts' release. But further progress may be hindered once word gets outthat the picture falls between too many stools and does not really qualify as afilm noir, police story, crime-horror movie or foray into the nature of madlove on the rampage.

Todd Robinson, whosegrandfather worked on the case itself, puts much emphasis on the investigationinto the criminals. The police are introduced first, drawing more time orattention than might be expected or needed.

Eric Robinson (John Travolta),who has a profound sense of guilt after his wife committed suicide, is the NewYork detective heading the investigation with Charles Hildebrandt (James Gandolfini) his sidekick.

A gruff, stooped and grim introvertof the old school, venting his anger at the slightest excuse, Robinson hidesbehind a tough veneer which makes it hard on his growing son, his sympatheticpartner and his secret part-time lover Rene (Dern).

In a separate plot, RaymondFernandez (Leto), a self-styled charmer who believesno woman can resist his appeal, is seen working his way into the heart andpurse of an unsuspecting singleton.

Fernandez, who made aprofession of prying on older, lonely women he picked by correspondence throughlonely hearts clubs, is next shown meeting with Beck (Hayek), who he first regardsas another victim to fleece.

But soon enough she cleverlymanipulates him to become his accomplice in an impossible partnership, wherebyhe is expected to continue sweeping victims off their feet and entranced for aslong as need be. Meanwhile the insanely jealous Martha, profoundly persuadedthat he is her exclusive property, is expected to stand guard nearby and preventhis affections getting the better of him.

The two separate plot linesconverge when Robinson and Hildebrandt are sent to investigate an apparentlyopen-and-shut case of a woman who seemingly cut her wrists after beingabandoned by her lover.

Though there seems no solidreason to continue the investigation, Robinson keeps digging, sniffing out tracesof the culprits. It culminates in the red-handed capture of Beck and Fernandez ona Michigan farm where they killed a mother and her daughter.

Tried in New York, the pair are executed by electric chair, protesting that their deedswere the result of a love stronger than death.

Robinson presents Beck as theevil force behind the murderous tandem. But he deprives her of the homely looksand oversize girth which made the female killer so desperately dependant on Fernandez'saffection, weakening Beck's culpability to the verge of pointless. Certainly Salma Hayek does not look like the kind of woman who need thirstfor male attention, and despite her best efforts, Beck's obsession withFernandez fails to convince.

Meanwhile Jared Leto plays Fernandez as such a wimp that only someone like thereal-life Beck could appreciate his attention.

John Travolta, who lookslike he bulked up for his role, very much plays against his usual screenpersona, walking around dejected and blowing his top every time Reillly (Scott Caan), one of hiscolleagues, tries to challenge him. The result is that James Gandolfini, who is expected to be the straight man to sucha character, has very little margin within which to manoeuvre his considerabletalent.

As for Laura Dern, as Travolta's colleague atwork and lover after hours, her part is largely unnecessary, save for thesyrupy end which requires her presence.

Production values arestrong, with meticulous reconstruction of the period, both through sets andcostumes. Photography effectively shifts between the fake glitterof Martinez's exploits, the briefly horrific moments of the crimes and thesombre reality of the law.

Production companies
Nu Image
Millenium Films
Emmett/Furla Films
Equity Pictures Medienfonds

International sales
c/o William Morris Agency

Executive producers
Danny Dimburt
Anson Dawns
Randall Emmett
Linda Favila
George Furla
Manfred Heid
Gerd Koechlin
Trevor Short
Laura D. Smith

Andreaq Thiesmeyer,
John Thompson

Boaz Davidson
Holly Wiersman

Peter Levy

Kathryn Himoff

Production design
John Gary Steele

Mycahel Danna

Main cast
John Travolta
James Gandolfini
Jared Leto
Salma Hayek
Laura Dern
Scott Caan