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By Lee Gardner | Posted

Chief among the assorted odd facts about Adolf Hitler--that he was a vegetarian, that he only had one testicle--is that he was, as a young man, a painter specializing in a rather pedestrian representational style. Veteran screenwriter Menno Meyjes uses this bit of trivia as the jumping off point for his directorial debut, Max. John Cusack essays the title role as an erudite, middle-class Jewish art dealer who meets a scruffy, not-a-pot-to-piss-in Cpl. Hitler, played by Shine's Noah Taylor, in post-World War I Munich. Hitler takes one look at the kind of avant-garde stuff Max attempts to sell and offers to shit on a canvas; Max, who lost an arm in the Great War himself, takes pity on the supremely sour young soldier and encourages his very modest talent. Thus a wildly unlikely friendship is born, and while Max focuses on the prickly relationship between the two men and on Hitler's struggle with himself and his art, it sort of works. Meyjes also scores points by depicting the future Führer's state-sponsored tutelage in anti-Semitism, public speaking, and propaganda--stuff not seen on-screen before. Unfortunately, Cusack is woefully miscast, and Meyjes squanders patience by wasting time on Max's adulterous but utterly heatless affair with a vapid and annoying post-teen (played by vapid and annoying post-teen Leelee Sobieski) and Max's own thwarted artistic dreams (the resulting "performance art" scene is too bad even for camp kicks). While Meyjes and Cusack fumble, Taylor fumes and glowers and spits and barks, making it clear why the art world's loss was world domination's gain and walking off with a bizarre little film in his pocket.

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