(director/writer: Paul Thomas Anderson; cinematographer: Robert Elswitt; editor: Dylan Tichenor; music: Michael Penn; cast: Mark Wahlberg (Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler), Julianne Moore (Amber Waves), Burt Reynolds (Jack Homer), Heather Graham (Rollergirl ), Don Cheadle (Buck Swope), John C. Reilly (Reed Rothchild), William H. Macy (Little Bill), Robert Ridgely (the Colonel), Ricky Jay (Kurt Longjohn), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Scotty J), Alfred Molinia (Rahad Jackson), Luis Guzman (Maurice TT Rodriguez), Thomas Jane (Todd Parker), Philip Baker Hall (Floyd Gondolli), Nina Hartley (Little Bill’s wife); Runtime: 152; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Lloyd Levin/John Lyons/Mr. Anderson/ Joanne Sellar; New Line Cinema; 1997)
“The flashy style cannot hide the slight story.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This period showbiz drama is written and directed by the 26-year-old Paul Thomas Anderson (“Hard Eight”/”There Will Be Blood”/”Magnolia”) and tells about the sleazy LA porn industry from 1977 to 1984. It zeroes in on the idealistic and patriarchal Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), a good-hearted and self-important director who makes his fortune from adult films. In a serio-comic way, we get a look at a group of misfits that congregate around Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman as the gay crew member, Don Cheadle as a nice guy porn star wannabe family man and stereo store owner, John C. Reilly as a dim-witted hanger-on who is a magician and a failing songwriter, William H. Macy as the assistant director who is a disgraced cuckold married to the promiscuous blonde Nina Hartley—a real-life porn star, and the airhead Heather Graham as Rollergirl—a young high school drop-out porn star who likes to keep her skates on even when screwing. They are all part of the porn world and through porn are living out the American Dream.
The gist of the film chronicles the rise and fall of a well-endowed and handsome 17-year-old named Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), who in 1977 has a dead-end job as a busboy in the Boogie Nights nightclub in San Fernando Valley that’s run by Maurice TT Rodriguez (Luis Guzman). While Jack and the nurturing porn superstar Amber (Julianne Moore) are at Boogie Nights, they discover Eddie and when Jack finds out that he’s got a 13-inch cock he brings him into the porn movie business and changes his name to Dirk Diggler. The likable but not too bright kid moves out of his nagging monster mother’s house and is eager to prove he can be somebody special. However his overnight rise from busboy to skinflick superstar comes crashing down on him, as he gets wasted by his fast living style, all the drugs that are everywhere, the violence, the big egos he’s surrounded by and the advent of the VCR that changes how the industry does business. In the end, the once sweet kid turns into a washed-out junkie and comes to realize he needs help and has to change.
The energetic but bleak film tells the fictional story of Dirk, that was inspired by real porn star John Holmes. It’s filled with disco music and has a certain witty madness, but is mostly style over substance as the young filmmaker is prone to showoff his muscle in shooting a film. Its flamboyant style captures the decadent glitz of the decades (with the 70s having a warm spot in the director’s heart, while the significantly different 80s has a colder feel). On top of that, Anderson gets wonderful performances from the ensemble cast—especially Reynolds in a convincing turn as the pretentious porn king who wants to make art out of porn (his schematic character, which the actor grandly humanizes, serves as an allegory for all filmmakers who want both commercial and artistic success). But the film falters: the flashy style cannot hide the slight story, its failure to deliver much in the way of ideas for its lengthy 152 minute running time.
REVIEWED ON 1/6/2008 GRADE: B-