Some thriller movies make you wait to find out what happens next. And we may not admit it, but “Gasoline Alley” does fall under that category. However, it’s just another track-down-the-killer-who-killed-the-girl formula that we’ve all seen a lot of. It’s but the execution and the screenwriting of “Gasoline Alley” that somehow hold our attention only to disappoint us at the end.
“Gasoline Alley” Plot Summary
At a bar in Los Angeles, Jimmy Jayne (Devon Sawa), a reformed con man-turned-tattoo artist, is drinking when he is approached by Star (Irina Antonenka), an attractive hooker. He turns her down, only to offer her a job as a secretary at his tattoo parlor. He gives her a lighter too with the name of his shop, “Gasoline Alley,” and his name, “Jimmy Jayne,” engraved on it. The next day, two LAPD detectives arrive at his shop, Detective Vargas (Luke Wilson) and Detective Freeman (Bruce Willis), to question him about a recent homicide. Four other girls were found in a hotel brutally murdered, and one of them was Star. And all the evidence points towards Jimmy. The lighter that was found at the spot had his fingerprints on it. Also, he was the last one to be seen with her before she was murdered. Jimmy decides to clear his name by himself. He makes his way into the morbid world of drugs, violence and corruption that leads him to a bizarre yet anticipated truth.
Jimmy Jayne- The Conman-Turned Detective?
For all its hollowness, the movie has quite a lot to take in. And it is perhaps in wondering what’s going on inside Jimmy’s head that takes us through the chain of events in the movie. The movie literally has the camera around him at all times. But it doesn’t bore us because we already have a lot going on inside our heads that pertain to him and his connection to the murders. We are in his shoes.
It’s not so much what he does but why he does it that matters. What was his motivation? Let’s try to cover as much as we can about him. He is clearly a former conman who has a lot of connections. He saved a popular actor (Kenny Wormald) from getting beaten up when they both served time together. He is also on discreet terms with a cop. Both these things do make him more or less a nice guy since the time he served, or maybe even before that. He is well-mannered and amicable, especially to women. So, he is motivated by affection. We also get to see his angry side when he confronts his actor friend after the party at Muleeny’s, as well as when he faces officer Flasso. He takes out his rage on Flasso, uses him to get to San Diego, and then kills him. This proves that he is also motivated by rage.
Furthermore, there are two scenes where we see him standing in front of a body of water, once in front of a pool (in the rain) at Muleeny’s and once in front of the sea. He is thinking about Star at both times. While the symbolism is bleak, the serenity of water might stand-in for Jimmy’s calmness. Or, the rain or the sea makes him calm and helps him make the right choice. Now imagine this. What if Star is Jimmy’s new motivation, the result of his affection and rage combining and dissolving in water (pool, sea, rain, etc.) to provide him with much-needed “inner peace” just before he is about to do the right thing, no matter how grave it is? It is immediately after his moments of calmness that he makes his strategic move, be it talking to Persy Muleeny at his Mulholland farmhouse or making his way to Muleeny’s office at Skid Row to interrogate Erasmos.
While he does show signs of being a detective, something that even Vargas mentions, we need to remember that he was once a conman. And con men are experts in tracking people using their ability to disguise themselves or by playing innocent and harmless. He pulls the same stunt at Muleeny’s party when he is stopped at the entrance by Kaiser.
“Gasoline Alley” doesn’t do justice to Jimmy James’s character. His love life is left unexplored despite showing his love-interest Christine (Kat Foster). It could have given more insight into why he was the way he was with Star. Does he develop feelings for her, or does she remind him of family, perhaps even a sister? We don’t even know anything about his life as a conman. All that we know is that he is a legend, something that his actor friend actor mentions to the bearded mechanic. There is no true context for the character that could have made his motivations more hard-hitting. He is just a very familiar macho protagonist in a movie like this and nothing more, although there was space for that.
The Detectives That Aren’t
Detectives Vargas and Freeman are secondary characters whose only job throughout the movie is to give Jimmy a heads-up. Vargas sides with Freeman and assists in the little ways that he can. The character of Freeman, despite his running with the goons, is not contextualized in the least. He easily could have been a Yang to Jimmy’s Yin or vice versa. Why do we say this? Because both Jimmy and Freeman are doing something that is totally against or opposite to their arcs. Jimmy is a conman, perhaps a murderer even, who is out to punish the guilty and thus serve justice. And Freeman is a police officer, a provider of justice, who is involved in drug racketeering and, as we find out, is a murderer. Moreover, when we realize that he is the mediator in the whole drug racket, we feel that he deserved more screen time.
“Gasoline Alley” Ending Explained: Where is Jimmy Now?
Now that he has taken care of it all, Jimmy will probably head to Berlin with his love interest, Christine. Perhaps he will open a new tattoo parlor there. Christine mentions how Jimmy lives in the moment. But his meeting with Star is certainly something that will pull him into his past. And during such times, he will have to “just look up.”
“Gasoline Alley” clearly opts for style over substance. It is molded in a way so as to give the feeling of its genre, i.e., noir thriller. However, that space for thrills is left wanting. It has all the ingredients, but it isn’t able to use them in the right quantities and in the right manner. Altogether, if you are looking to watch a thriller just for the sake of it, “Gasoline Alley” makes for a great show. Because that’s what it gives you, a silly good time.
“Gasoline Alley” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Edward Drake.