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Lonely Hearts

In a memorably disturbing 1970 film called The Honeymoon Killers director Leonard Kastle, replacing a fired Martin Scorsese, told the true-crime story of Raymond Fernandez (Tony LoBianco) who teamed up during the 1940s with the overweight and overwrought Martha Beck (the superb Shirley Stoler) to con and then kill rich, lonely widows. Raymond was the sex bait while the jealous Martha would pass herself off as his sister, a nurse. The film spawned a cult and a 1996 Mexican remake, Deep Crimson. So, you might ask, why do it again?

Director-screenwriter Todd Robinson has a good reason. Long Island Detective Elmer C. Robinson who helped capture these honeymoon killers and witnessed their execution in 1951, was Robinson’s grandfather. Todd grew up hearing stories about the grisly case. By casting John Travolta as Elmer and James Gandolfini as his partner Charles Hilderbrandt, Robinson could give equal time to the pursuers as well as the pursued.

Good plan. The film, unfortunately, never comes fully into focus or fully alive. Travolta and Gandolfini have an easy, knowing rapport that makes you believe in them as partners who know each other’s secret hearts. Still, the villains can’t help but steal their thunder.

Jared Leto, looking like Johnny Depp playing Ed Wood, makes Raymond a dashing charmboy given to dangerous, quicksilver moods. And Salma Hayek, too much the hottie to even suggest the real Martha, nevertheless catches the character’s pathology. In one scene, Martha commands Raymond to close his eyes and reach orgasm just by thinking of her — no help from his hands. The intensity of Leto and Hayek goes deeper than the script into revealing what makes these two sociopaths in heat impervious to bloody murder. When Hayek and Leto are onscreen, you do not look away.

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