The Two Jakes (1990)
The Two Jakes (1990)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 17 min.

Release Date: August 10th, 1990 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jack Nicholson Actors: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe, Eli Wallach, Ruben Blades, David Keith, Richard Farnsworth, James Hong




nquestionably inferior to its predecessor – and shockingly mediocre in general – “The Two Jakes” is the obscure sequel to Roman Polanski’s practically perfect film noir, “Chinatown.” With several familiar characters and a storyline that eventually ties into some of the twisted occurrences from the former picture, “The Two Jakes” still manages to be excruciatingly bland. Originally, a third chapter to the Gittes story was intended, but this second outing was so overwhelmingly disappointing that the franchise was stopped dead in its tracks.

Fifteen years have passed since the events of “Chinatown,” and Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is still haunted by his encounter with Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) – though he continues to stay busy. Jake Berman (Harvey Keitel), a real estate developer, hires Gittes for protection after shooting his wife’s lover during a recording of evidence, coincidentally conducted by Gittes himself in the adjacent room. More suspicious, slightly wiser, and definitely fatter, Gittes struggles to get to the heart of the murder, which could be either premeditated or accidental, as the victim was Berman’s business partner. While trying to avoid charges as an accomplice, Gittes is thrust headlong into a torrid affair with Lillian Bodine (Madeleine Stowe), the wife of the murdered man. During his investigation, the bitterer private eye runs into a plot to obtain mineral rights from property that might be rich in oil – and a trail of deceit that could reunite him with Katherine Mulwray, Evelyn’s daughter.

Again written by Robert Towne, “The Two Jakes” has lost just about every aspect that made “Chinatown” sensational. It also no longer resembles film noir. A courtroom drama blended with a complex murder mystery, this halfhearted follow-up leaves much to be desired in almost every department. Jake’s office has grown bigger and he now owns the entire building. But the adulterous scum, double-dealers, and lowlifes still frequent his profession, showing no signs of slowing down in the corrupt Los Angeles of the 1940s. This time, however, Gittes appears to fearlessly interfere with evidence and police matters, beyond the extent that he did in “Chinatown.” He’s a much less likable character, with all of his smarmy, smart-mouthed, smooth-talking sarcasm getting replaced with sour vindictiveness.

The story is just as intricate as before, but the characters are so quickly and poorly developed that audiences won’t care about them. The same goes for the murder mystery, which is so drawn out and lengthy that viewers won’t bother trying to guess at the conclusions. Striking deals with criminals and fist-fighting cops, Gittes has become a less admirable antihero; Stowe is a frenzied, nearly psychotic widow; and Keitel is shrouded by shadiness all the way through. As uninvolving as the story is, it’s made worse by characters no one can root for.

“The Two Jakes” also adopts a monotone narration by Nicholson (who opted to direct the film when better choices disappeared), which was thankfully removed from the “Chinatown” script. Lou Escobar (Perry Lopez) returns, as does Kahn the butler (James Hong), but the project as a whole couldn’t feel less like the fulfilling and disturbing epic Polanski flawlessly crafted 16 years earlier. With flashbacks and gratingly reused lines of dialogue (including “I wouldn’t extort my worst enemy – that’s where I draw the line”), this snail-paced, convoluted excuse for crime drama is a pathetic way for the highly revered Jake Gittes to fade away.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10