True-Life 1950s Hollywood Potential Whodunit Becomes Classic 2006 Hollywood, Ahhhh, Fuggit
"Pointless" is too often critical shorthand meant to imply that a movie doesnít make clear its goals, falls short of attaining them, or, in the end, doesnít make a good deal of sense. In other words, the overemployment of the "pointless" accusation runs the danger of crying critical wolf--especially worrisome when one encounters the real, literal, no-BS deal with the tepid and trying Tinseltown tell-nothing Hollywoodland. This is a movie that squanders a great hook--the possibility that the suicide of original TV Superman George Reeves (Ben Affleck) was a murder--only to settle on the explanation offered in the first five minutes, which means that everything after those first five minutes is, literally, pointless.
Although starring cinema A-listers Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, and Affleck, the only memorable moments are provided by eternal also-ran Robin Tunney as New York gold digger/actress/slut Leonore Lemmon. And while Lane cattily hissing that Leonore is inclined to produce "smoke rings with her cunt" is rife with Mommie Dearest potential, camp pleasure isnít on the menu here. This is the arty niche of the new Hollywood formula, with dreary riding shotgun with incomprehensible.
Speaking of words, hereís another: endurance. Youíre going to need lots of it, because a whole lot of not-much with an ample side of red herrings is all thatís being served here.
Brody plays a young, inexperienced yet burned-out PI named Louis Simo who, after Reevesí death, is hired by Reevesí mother (Lois Smith), who claims her son was murdered. While also conducting an infidelity case that will end in a murder that has nothing to do with anything, Simo arbitrarily becomes obsessed with following all the leads on the Reeves case that donít exist. If nothing else, Simo provides Brody with a career-low role, a near-backstory-free generic character who is divorced from his wife (Molly Parker) and son for reasons both mysterious and vague, causing the likable actor to indulge in randomized shtick and twitches for lack of anything else to do.
Concurrent with Simoís clutching at straws to prove wrongdoing where thereís scant evidence of it, weíre run through the year or so of Reevesí life that led to his suicide, or murder, or whatever. It mainly involves the affair between Reeves and aging horndog Toni Mannix (Lane), who, along with her MGM "fixer" husband, Edgar (Hoskins), manages to get Reeves the Superman gig, which leads to despondence over being typecast. As if this isnít drama-neutering enough, the movie continually flashes back to Reeves at his last party, where he sings melancholic Mexican ballads (???) and which is attended by Leonore, with whom Reeves, much later in the movie, has an affair that totally upsets Toni.
And then, about an hour in, the movie ends. Or rather, a totally convincing version of Reevesí "murder" is displayed. But the movie still has an hour to go, so it just sort of repeats what was so disengaging before--Reevesí dissatisfaction with being Superman, Toni vacillating between randy and wretched, Edgar glowering, and Simo trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. After we find out that that definitive murder thing wasnít true at all, perhaps, we end up at the beginning, sort of, ending in a last scene that will cause even the most patient viewer to exhale, "You gotta be fucking kidding."
Director Allen Coulter does manage to create a seedy atmosphere suggestive of off-camera moral rot. But Hollywoodland lacks the intertwining themes of personal and public corruption that made a classic out of Chinatown, which composer Marcelo Zarvos echoes in his big-band-inflected themes. Still, there is a for-real mystery afoot in Hollywoodland: How could such a terrific TV director, with sterling episodes of The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and Rome to his credit, come up with such a mess? It leads you to wonder about the disconnect between the values embraced by a good amount of American television (character depth, thematic consistency, narrative drive) and those prevalent in American cinema--the pandering to the 14-year-old demographic with effects, velocity, and designed vapidity or narrowcasting its misperceptions of niche audience desires. Perhaps Hollywoodland is the muffled splat of the two mediums colliding, visible proof that their respective requirements have become entirely incompatible.