Sunday, September 10, 2006

Joe Scott finds mixed terrain in Hollywoodland.

What if the conclusion of Oliver Stone's JFK depicted the lawyer Kevin Costner played giving up after a relentless legal battle for the truth, and saying, "All right, all right, so the Warren Report was the most accurate account of the Kennedy assassination!"

I would be kinda frustrated to say the least, and that's exactly how I felt after watching Hollywoodland, a film that suggests the tragic suicide of former Superman actor George Reeves (no relation to Christopher) may have been a murder instead. The only problem is that, in the end, the movie agrees with the LAPD's version of events. Unfortunately, screenwriter Paul Bernbaum tried to turn the film into an investigation anyway.

Adrien Brody plays private eye Lois Simo, who searches for the answers about Reeve's death in the most by the numbers detective plot in recent movie history. Simo is everything the movies tell us a great investigator should be: he's liar, a heavy drinker, and a terrible husband and father. And while most movie detectives with crummy lives are redeemed by witty wordplay and tough guy dialogue, Brody finds no such luck.

There's a scene where Simo confronts seedy MGM head Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), and says, "We got people in common with each other."

Mannix fires back, "We got nothing in common." And that's it. There's no comeback from Simo, no putdown, and most importantly, no cool.

There is also the scene where Simo comes enters a darkened living room and tries in vain to turn on the lights. I told my friend sitting next to me this is the part where the detective gets threatened and beat up by goons. Too bad I wasn't wrong.

So why does the movie try - and fail - to engagingly investigate something that it doesn't believe is a mystery? Well, the entire mystery plot of the film is nothing more than a framing device for the biography of George Reeves. I only wish that the mystery portions had been better, because the scenes dedicated to Reeves's life were good.

Aside from physical similarities, Affleck was the most obvious choice to play Reeves. Both actors played superheroes (Affleck played Daredevil); both were featured in dramas that centered around Pearl Harbor - Reeves in the award winning From Here to Eternity and Affleck in the money squandering Pearl Harbor; both had drinking problems; and both had waning careers.

It was odd in a way. There were scenes in the film where Reeves works hard to maintain his waning smile in lieu of a failing career, and since a string of flops has put Affleck in the same situation, I felt at times like I was watching a documentary.

Diane Lane portrays Mannix's wife, who is depicted here using Reeves like a sexual fountain of youth in exchange for lavish gifts. She buys Reeves a house and assures him that her powerful husband won't mind their liaison since he has a mistress of his own as well. This all leads to the most inventive part in the movie when Reeves joins Mr. and Mrs. Mannix as well as Mannix's mistress for dinner at a restaurant. Both Reeves and the mistress are regarded by the elder couple as children, and when Reeves tries to small talk the mistress. "She doesn't speak English!" Scolds Mannix as if he were Reeve's father.

There were other highlights to this part of the film, but the dramatic tension was interrupted again and again by the needless mystery. The tragic life and death of George Reeves is interesting enough. So why did the film makers take so much talent and money only to shoot themselves in the foot with an added strolling that wasn't even necessary? Now that's the mystery I would like for Adrien Brody to solve.

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