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Hollywoodland (3/10)

by Tony Medley

I was looking forward to this movie, despite the presence of Ben Affleck in the cast as the star. I like movies set in Los Angeles; I like movies about the ‘40s and ‘50s; I like mysteries, I like looking at Diane Lane, and I like noir, which this looked like it might be. Such anticipation sets the bar high because if it’s only moderately good the disappointment is such that it could be rated lower than it should be. However, even had I been dreading watching this, much as I do anything with Will Ferrell, it would still have been a disappointment.

The movie purports to investigate the reported suicide death of minor actor George Reeves (Affleck), TV’s Superman in the 1950s. Why it is entitled “Hollywoodland” is as great a mystery as the subject of the film. Reeves didn’t become known until the TV series “Superman,” which had its debut in 1952. The “land” was removed from the Hollywoodland sign in 1949. What’s the connection?

First timer Allen Coulter is directing a film by first time screenwriter Paul Bernbaum. Like most modern filmmakers, neither of these guys knows anything about pace or brevity. I could make a lot of money in Hollywood if only filmmakers would hire me and give me a sharp pair of scissors. I don’t think the “cutting room floor” exists anymore. If so, you could eat off of it because it’s always sparkling clean. This is a story that could easily have been told in 80 minutes. Instead, they stretch it out to an interminable 126 minutes. Worse, there’s nobody in the movie who is likeable, save Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), Reeves’ mistress and also the wife of MGM strongman Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins).

I was fighting slumber in the first five minutes. The battle continued for the entire 126 minutes. Only when Hoskins and Lane were onscreen was I able to sit and watch without sleep attacking me. There is very little in this film to recommend it, apart from the performances of Lane, Hoskins, Robin Tunney (playing Leonore Lemmon, Reeves’ girlfriend near the end of his life), and Joe Spano (playing Howard Strickling, an MGM PR guy). Except for the cars and the period makeup on some of the women (not Lane; are you kidding? Diane has to look modern and beautiful), there’s nothing to tell that this is taking place in the 1950s.

The movie jumps back and forth among Reeves’ death being investigated by down-on-his-luck Private Eye Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), his playing Superman, and his earlier career (his first role was as a very minor player, one of the Tarleton twins, right at the beginning of “Gone With The Wind” (1939). It’s not terribly confusing but it’s not terribly entertaining. The script has a few good lines (“Nobody ever asked to be happy later,” says Toni. “An actor doesn’t always act – sometimes he has to work,” Art Weissman [Jeffrey DeMunn], Reeves’ agent, tells him), but by and large there are lots of scenes where people think.

And, let’s face it, there’s not much to think about here. Did he commit suicide or was he murdered? He was a secondary player in Hollywood, at best. This is not Marilyn Monroe about whom we are speculating. This is George Reeves, not a particularly good actor and not a particularly good-looking man, despite what the movie wants us to believe. Affleck is much better looking than was Reeves, but not much better as an actor. To add to the disappointment, it is not noir; maybe it could be termed an attempt in the style of noir. This could have been a crackling good mystery had it been in defter hands. It wasn’t and it’s not.

August 25, 2006