NAPLES NEVER DIES follows the intersecting stories of a Chet Baker-like Jazz musician named B. Buster Pie (who, despite his all-American moniker, is a self-hating pharmaceutical addict), a half-black, half-gay drug lord named Cornell Parker (whose love of mindless violence is only matched by his love of abnormal, globular-bottomed sex), and an avenging angel named Gus Benedict (returning from the original Naples film, but with his face covered by a ski mask after the original film's star died and Stielstra opted to play the role himself).
Along the way, we meet a discount buffet-table's worth of unique characters, locations, events, cinematic styles and film quality, oftentimes within one scene. I'm not sure if the use of divergent film stocks was an homage to Oliver Stone or the result of the general incompetence of Stielstra's film crew, but it contributes to the film's dangerous, uneasy world where one minute you might be sitting down peacefully at a self-help meeting, and the next minute you might be in a one-chip video, getting a clip's worth of bullets shot into your lungs and pelvis.
Unfortunately, many of the characters don't get a chance to fully resonate. This is not to say that B. Buster Pie and Cornell Parker are lesser creations. Far from it. But it's somewhat difficult to follow Pie's arc of addiction and misogyny, or to fully understand Parker's conflicted identity issues demonstrated in his bisexual predilection--or his decision to undergo race re-assignment surgery. Compounding the issue are some questionable uses of screen-time, in Pie's case, an initially powerful but eventually overlong, unbroken master shot of him begging for a hit of paint, and in Parker's case, a couple of lengthy scenes involving his almost incapacitated mother stumbling around while the phone rings. The film overcomes this handicap with two powerfully shot and acted demises for each character. I won't spoil them here, but Stielstra has the ability to draw blood from a stone and tears from an audience for two despicable louts whose deaths they would cheer in any other film. Gus Benedict, as the film's surrogate protagonist, is reduced to a grim specter of death, not unlike The Shape in the original "Halloween".
Of course, the film has plenty of other fascinating characters, including the leader of a white supremacist group known as Anal Pride, a corrupt FBI agent, a doomed library worker dressed as a clown, a corrupt lawyer brilliantly played by deviant filmmaker and registered sex offender Michael Fredianelli, and Peanut, a Chicano, bicycle shorts-wearing cowboy whose very presence causes the film's editing to loop itself into a miasma of smash-zooms. This, just so the movie can make sure it's actually seeing what it thinks it's seeing.
Stielstra's film also boasts a good chunk of archival footage of public domain commercials, newscasts, children's cartoons, and scatological nature footage that seems to appear at random intervals throughout. Whether these were spliced into this negative on accident is still undetermined, but they contribute to the film's howling disenfranchisement with modern American culture.
As a whole, NAPLES NEVER DIES seems less an homage to European crime films (as the title would suggest), and more a madman's fever dream about the illicit underbelly of Arizona. Even in this patchwork quilt of a cut, NAPLES NEVER DIES is a film drunk on the possibilities of cinema. Literally. It wakes up and and messes itself on the couch of standard narrative storytelling.
In other words, it's a wake-up call from the drunk tank of motion pictures. Will you accept the charges? A million stars.