3 Steps to Heaven (1995) Movie Review

(Movie Review by Donnie Saxton) “3 Steps to Heaven” is a British crime drama about a female protagonist named Suzanne (Katrin Cartlidge) who takes it upon herself to solve the mysterious death of her boyfriend. Originally a TV movie, the story is derivative of many superior films where the main character assumes an investigative role upon a sincere belief that the cops have closed the case of a murdered love one too early. By any conceivable standard, “3 Steps to Heaven” is a grievous disappointment; unless, by chance, you are looking for an experience where the confusion endured is surpassed only by the corresponding monotony.

“Heaven” initially begins anesthetizing its audience through a bewildering set of opening scenes that will make you swear you missed the first half hour. Films often frustrate because they take far too long to develop and spend vast amounts of time instructing on the context of the plot. Here, director Constantine Giannaris steps in the other direction by thrusting a story upon his audience with essentially no development. It’s very much like starting a novel on page 50.

Despite the preliminary confusion, I was able to surmise that Suzanne’s boyfriend, Sean (Stuart Laing), after a night of partying and drug dealing worthy of a Hair band tour, was found floating face down in the Thames River. The London police quickly rule it an accident, but Suzanne, after walking around naked in her apartment for a while, smells suspicious circumstances. Through a friend of Sean’s, she finds out that Sean was last seen exiting a Central London nightclub and entering a car with three minor celebrities. The “3 Steps” from the title is a nod to the three people from that car.

Since the 3 celebrities were all with Sean shortly before his death, Suzanne believes that one, or all, of them know the truth. After a tortuous first 15 minutes, the film evenly divides the remaining 75 minutes of screentime (except for a brief wrap up ending) between Suzanne’s attempts to track down each of the three and extract details from them about Sean’s death. We learn far more than we ever needed to about all involved and the film stretches radically to make the trio seem interesting. Without too much punishing detail, let’s just say that they are all unsympathetic, self-absorbed losers, which does not distinguish them at all from Sean, who cheerfully doles out coke in exchange for sexual favors from druggies who can’t pay.

At its most exasperating, “Heaven” begins dropping absurd red herrings that lead to nowhere but frustration. Permit me one for instance: while tracking the first witness, Suzanne accidentally shoots some poor Brit in a crowded elevator, who is then left trampled and bleeding by a panicking herd. Suzanne quickly moves on to rework the finer points of her plan. Naturally, I assumed this was some kind of mortifying dream sequence brought on by the anxiety of having to play detective, but that revelation never came. Instead, the film plodded on while this rather incredible occurrence remained unexplained. Eventually I realized that the London police, for some reason, weren’t looking for her, and Suzanne, who up to this point was the only character with a conscience in the entire movie, wasn’t slightly buggered. Such illogical and meaningless events can only be explained by a screenwriter’s runaway providence.

Further evidence of how disconnected this film is seeps out when Suzanne eventually attempts to flog the truth out of one witness by dressing him up in his own S & M gear and threatening torture. Of course, it begs the question why one would use another’s fetish for sadomasochism against him or her as a means of “torture.” The only common sense answer is that the filmmaker has a soft spot for laugh-out-loud irony, but let’s not give anyone associated with this charade too much credit.

To be sure, TV movies are often pedestrian; yet this exercise could have been less of an unequivocal disappointment if it had the good sense to not take is self so seriously. Crappy US television crime shows like “She Spies” and “V.I.P” serve a purpose and caters to an audience precisely because they maintain a sense of humor about their own silliness. Conversely, “3 Steps to Heaven” wants to be taken seriously, but the idea of doing so is a joke in and of itself.

Constantine Giannaris (director) / Constantine Giannaris (screenplay)
CAST: Freddie Annobil-Dodoo…. Paul
Frances Barber …. Andrea Wallis
Siobhan Burke …. Dawn
Katrin Cartlidge …. Suzanne/Candy/Billie

Buy 3 Steps to Heaven on DVD