(director/writer: Atom Egoyan; screenwriter: from the novel by Rupert Holmes; cinematographer: Paul Sarossy; editor: Susan Shipton; music: Mychael Danna; cast: Kevin Bacon (Lanny Morris), Colin Firth (Vince Collins), Alison Lohman (Karen O’Connor), Rachel Blanchard (Maureen O’Flaherty), David Hayman (Reuben), Maury Chaykin (Sally SanMarco), Kristin Adams (Alice), Sonja Bennett (Bonnie), Deborah Grover (Mrs. O’Flaherty); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Lantos; ThinkFilm; 2005-UK/Canada/USA)

“It was unsatisfying in every way possible, but at least Kevin Bacon manages to give his usual good performance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s Canadian director of Armenian heritage Atom Egoyan’s (“Family Viewing”/”Ararat”) attempt at making a film that’s a cross between a crass pseudo-biopic and a pulp mystery story; Egoyan adapted it from Rupert Holmes’s 2003 gossipy crime novel. It’s one of the arty director’s more mainstream films and, in my opinion, his worst; one that seems brazenly set on trying to please its audience with guilt-pleasure sexual treats but fails overall to be a credible work due to many missteps, not the least being the director doesn’t seem suited for this type of roman a clef tale and the filmmaking is sloppy (it never looks like anything but a B film). It tries to answer the question of what caused the scandalous Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis split, in a loose manner of speaking, and bring to the front some of Hollywood’s well-kept dirty secrets. It uses the stand-up comedy team of the vulgar Jewish comedian Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and classy Brit comedian Vince Collins (Colin Firth) to stand-in for the famous Hollywood duo and tells its muddled, preposterous and unappealing story through the eyes of a journalist doing a story on them. It was unsatisfying in every way possible, but at least Kevin Bacon manages to give his usual good performance. This misfire is a big stumble from grace for the uneven Egoyan, who at his best in films like Calendar and Exotica managed to be nimble in getting to his nasty metaphorical truths about reality. In this dismal offering, Egoyan is at a loss to find anything to say that really matters.

The heyday of the Collins and Morris comedy team was in the 1950s, and through flashback we see their shtick in a swanky Miami hotel nightclub act and during a polio telethon (reminding one of Lewis’ muscular dystrophy telethon). The gist of the story involves the death of pretty Maureen (Rachel Blanchard), a college student and ambitious aspiring journalist, who worked summers as a hotel room service waitress and interviewed Lanny for her college newspaper. It’s now sometime in the 1970s and a young journalist named Karen O’Connor (Alison Lohman) is interviewing Vince about his life; her book publishing company is paying him a million bucks to make it a juicy tell-all memoir. Karen’s aim is to draw out from the reluctant Vince, who no longer is on the top and needs the dough, what happened to cause the breakup of their popular act. She suspects that it happened because Maureen was murdered, and possibly could have been murdered by them because she was blackmailing them. Maureen was first found in their hotel suite bathtub on the eve of their telethon, but their gangster benefactor (Maury Chaykin) arranged for her to be found in a New Jersey hotel. Though cleared by the police, gossip persists it was a coverup. The scandal evoked brings up reminders of what brought down the career of the once popular comedian Fatty Arbuckle.

The problem is the acting was stilted and the script was so off-the-wall, filled with contrivances that are hard to digest such as Ms. O’Connor on the night of the murder being at the telethon as a young girl cured of polio and speaking on TV of her miracle. If that weren’t enough Ms. O’Connor, now the journalist, has a sexual encounter with one partner she meets accidentally on a flight and is drugged by the other to have a lesbian encounter so he can hold sway over what she writes.

There’s plenty of sleaze, but it’s not any fun. This filmmaker was ill-prepared to make anything out of the outlandish dirt he dug up concerning public image and private reality, fame, power trips, corruption and sex; the film seems to be done without any conviction or purpose, and in the end leaves one with an empty feeling that it wasn’t worth the effort going down this tawdry road to come away with so little.

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