HOLLYWOODLAND (director: Allen Coulter; screenwriter: Paul Bernbaum; cinematographer: Jonathan Freeman; editor: Michael Berenbaum; music: Marcelo Zarvos; cast: Adrien Brody (Louis Simo), Diane Lane (Toni Mannix), Ben Affleck (George Reeves), Bob Hoskins (Edgar Mannix), Lois Smith (Helen Bessolo), Robin Tunney (Leonore Lemmon), Joe Spano (Howard Strickling), Molly Parker (Laurie Simo), Brad William Henke (Russ Taylor), Larry Cedar (Chester Sinclair), Art Weissman (Jeffrey DeMunn), Evan Simo (Zach Mills), Sergeant Jack Paterson (Dash Mihok); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Glenn Williamson; Focus; 2006)
“Brody can’t do much with his undeveloped character except chew-the-scenery like Dustin Hoffman usually does.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
“Hollywoodland” was the original lettering on the world-famous “Hollywood Sign” before shortened to “Hollywood.” It’s a place where dreams can come true whether one has talent or not, and where dreamers can find disappointment with life and meet tragic ends (not unlike what happens to ordinary sorts in Middle America). The very ordinary George Reeves (Ben Affleck), a second-rate actor, who played Superman on the TV series from 1952 to 1958 and before that had minor parts in films such as Gone With The Wind, is given the bigger-than-life treatment over the way he died even though as an actor his fame was achieved more through luck than skill. Allen Coulter’s (“The Sopranos” TV series) film directing debut offers a slow-paced but somewhat appetizing character study neo-noir film that aims to remove any gaga childlike heroic love outpouring over the mythical comic book superhero (differing from the aims of the summer’s disappointing blockbuster Superman Returns), as it plays hard-ball with Reeves’s real-life tragedy, his aging problem, his need to get out of being in that typecast role into something more serious and offers several conspiracy theories that his death was not a suicide but a murder that was covered-up by Hollywood.
The 45-year-old Reeves was found with a bullet in his head in his Hollywood Hills house on June 16, 1959, after he retired upstairs to his bedroom while entertaining that evening his party girl floozy aspiring actress fiancée, Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney), and two friends. The shooting was ruled a suicide by the LAPD but the diverting screenplay by Paul Bernbaum brings up the possibility it was murder. Through the use of flashbacks the film follows both Reeves’s true story leading to his death and the fictional story of private investigator, Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), hired by Reeves’ repugnant Indiana mother Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith), who was not convinced her estranged son committed suicide. It uncovers the possibilities of at least two murder scenarios–which are played out here better than the original suicide scenario. Most of the overly ambitious film’s energy and time, to its detriment, is filled by following the dick’s empty private life. There’s just too much uninteresting detail about the self-absorbed hustler gumshoe divorced from his not supportive wife Laurie (Molly Parker); his having a tough go relating to his snippy young hero-worshiping son Evan (Zach Mills) who has been crushed, like many children at the time (though I was a teenager at the time and can remember no child in my neighborhood that affected), that the Man of Steel could be killed by a bullet; working on a case where his only other client (Larry Cedar) is much crazier and deadlier than he first thought; and where he’s given beatings by his former private detective agency, that fired him, who are now working for a ruthless studio boss not happy with the dick’s publicity tactics of using the tabloids to make his case. Unfortunately the dick’s tale of woe and need to find redemption for his failed life never materializes as a worthwhile story and Brody can’t do much with his undeveloped character except chew-the-scenery like Dustin Hoffman usually does. The more compelling story, the one that the film is really about, has Reeves having an affair with wealthy older woman Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), who buys him a luxurious house and slyly keeps him around as her resident stud. The ex-showgirl’s hubby is the elderly Edgar Mannix (Bob Hoskins), a hard-nosed cunning MGM studio executive, who openly has his mistresses and acts more like a crime boss than a studio mogul. Hoskins gives the most menacing and best performance in the film. Affleck succeeds only because he’s someone with little ability as an actor, but who is perfectly cast playing an actor with limited ability. Smith is good because she’s so vile.
A wannabe Chinatown that must settle for being more trivial like L.A. Confidential, as it opens up a not too pretty can of worms about Hollywood insiders but has little to say about them and the meaning of fame that means much. If it only steered clear of most of Brody’s story and stayed with those unctuous characters Reeves surrounded himself with (such as Jeffrey DeMunn, who turns in the second best performance as Reeves’s talentless but benign seeming self-serving agent) the pic would have rolled around in the slop like the contented pig it really wanted to be and not have to bother with so much inauthentic artsy-fartsy subplot over the private eye’s anxiety dilemmas–which kept zapping the energy out of the film.
REVIEWED ON 9/9/2006 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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