Graeme Clifford – among those Australian directors who pursue at least part of their career overseas – has made some interesting movies including Frances (1982) and Gleaming the Cube (1989).
Ruby Cairo belongs to a loose genre which is not particularly big these days – the exotic adventure spanning as many continents as possible in a speedy blur – and Clifford's take on the formula is so odd that the film went direct to video in his homeland.
One of the pleasures of watching Ruby Cairo is that you can never be very sure which exact genre it belongs to, or where the plot is going next.
Ruby (Andie MacDowell) receives a gruesome indication through the mail that her husband John (Viggo Mortensen) has died in Mexico; her immediate journey there reminds the viewer of xenophobic thrillers like Midnight Express (1978).
But when the evidence does not add up, Ruby becomes a feisty detective zipping around the globe in search of John's secret bank accounts – and the film becomes a merry Girl's Own Adventure.
En route, Ruby runs into the handsome charity worker Fergus (Liam Neeson). Climbing pyramids with Fergus, her children and daily responsibilities far away, Ruby ponders the problems of romance typical to high-class soap opera – problems that are intensified when she discovers that her husband may have been more a fallen angel than a golden boy.
Meanwhile, Fergus' difficult dealings with the criminal underworld (embodied by a gruff Jack Thompson) anticipate Neeson's starring role in Schindler's List (1993) – and that film's theme of the thin, moral line between acts of good and acts of evil.
Travelogue yarns (like Wenders' Until the End of the World, 1991) often collapse into a string of unimaginative clichés, whole countries and cultures condensed into postcard views and caricatured behaviours. Ruby Cairo does not escape this trap, especially in John Barry's appalling musical score.
But this is a film which energetically embraces its stereotypical elements and gives them a real spin. Besides, any movie which pays homage to Sam Shepard by making a lyrical comparison between Cairo, Kentucky and Cairo, Egypt has to have something going for it.
© Adrian Martin June 1994