Mark Frost, who created TV's Twin Peaks with David Lynch, takes the plunge as a feature director with this overheated but high-style mystery about the commingling of sex and politics on the Louisiana bayou. Like Peaks, Storyville uncovers the dark past of an American family. The resemblance is heightened by evocative location photography by Ron Garcia, who made Washington State such a presence in the Peaks pilot. Otherwise, Frost goes his own less surreal way in this well-timed morality tale about election hypocrisy.

James Spader again dons his preppie-prince mantle, this time to play Cray Fowler, a pampered scion of an old political family who is being groomed for Congress. Since Cray's wife (Justine Arlin) fucks around, his former love (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer in a frenzy of eyelash batting) offers comfort. It's up to Cray's uncle, played by Jason Robards with the pungency of fine bourbon, to keep the family skeletons from rattling. Grandfather was involved in a land scandal, father was a suicide, and mother (Piper Laurie) is a lush. But a secret video of Cray's energetic one-nighter with an aikido instructor (a zowie Charlotte Lewis) hangs a Gennifer Flowers albatross on the candidate and leads to blackmail. Until Storyville degenerates into tawdry soap opera, Frost does some much-needed damage to the scourge of puritanical cant.