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By Merle Bertrand | April 26, 2003

Jimmy Cremins (Matt Dillon) is feeling the heat from the Feds. A devastating hurricane has roared through causing extensive damage. Unfortunately for Jimmy, the fraudulent insurance company that he fronts for his longtime mentor Marvin (James Caan) doesn’t have the cash to pay off the claims. Against Marvin’s wishes, Jimmy travels to Cambodia to escape the investigation and regroup with his shady and mysterious boss.
Things immediately go from bad to worse upon Jimmy’s arrival. He checks into a decrepit hotel run by the temper prone brute Emile (Gerard Depardieu), has his passport swiped, and gets mugged outside a sleazy brothel. The only pleasant aspect is his introduction to the beautiful Sophie (Natascha McElhone). Eventually, with the help of his patient guide Sok (Sereyvuth Kem) and the less forthcoming assistance of Jimmy’s whiny brown-nosing associate Kaspar (Stellan Skarsgard), Jimmy finally hooks up with Marvin. Though less than pleased with Jimmy’s decision to join him in Cambodia, Marvin nonetheless offers his reluctant protégé another partnership opportunity, this time as an operator of a deluxe resort and casino in partnership with a shady Cambodian ex-general.
As Jimmy soon learns, however, it’s a deal fraught with risks. Because even if the general doesn’t back-stab them and even if the Russian mafia doesn’t track down Marvin to collect some old debts, Jimmy’s jealous rival Kaspar just might take matters into his own hands.
“City of Ghosts” is trying so hard to be an epic tale of crime and intrigue, but it just doesn’t quite succeed. It’s true that the film’s lush locations within Thailand and Cambodia add an unmistakably exotic aura to the film. Yet as luscious as the scenery is, it still merely serves as window dressing for what’s essentially a mundane story. In addition, in spite of a few scattered moments of intense action, the film is, at 120 minutes, much too long. Dillon, in his feature directorial debut, demonstrates a tendency to over cut within the individual scenes, while the film itself feels needlessly long.
This has the unmistakable feel of a vanity project about it, which makes it a little tough to take either Dillon or the film seriously. It’s not that “City of Ghosts” is an awful film or anything, because it definitely has its moments. It’s just that it’s not nearly the epic that its creators think it is.

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