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Subpar writing damages ‘Hollywoodland’

Marty Schroeder | Tuesday, February 6, 2007

“Hollywoodland” is a film that has great potential and wants to be something profound but can’t quite make it to what it wants to be. The film is hampered by a plot that runs amok in too many directions, and the DVD is a typical first release edition that doesn’t have what fans really want. This movie is, in a word, boring. What could have been one of the best films of the year due to star power and storyline in the end couldn’t quite figure itself out.

The film itself is a mystery yarn about the death of Superman actor George Reeves. Reeves is portrayed by Ben Affleck in the best performance of his career. The one redeeming quality of this film is Affleck’s performance, and the fact he did not get nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar is one of the biggest crimes of this year.

The rest of the performances, however, are merely mediocre. Adrien Brody plays the detective Louis Simo and Diane Lane is Toni Mannix, the wife of Hollywood executive Eddie Mannix. Eddie is played by the always-great Bob Hoskins whose lack of screen time is the only reason he isn’t remembered in this film. Otherwise, he could have put in a grisly and tough performance and made the film better for it. Body and Lane are agreeable and decent but these are certainly not the best performances of their career. Brody in “The Pianist” or even “King Kong” is better than this one.

The DVD has a commentary by director Allen Coulter that is informative but not all that exciting. Fans of the film will appreciate the observations but otherwise, nothing special. One of the featurettes, entitled “Recreating Old Hollywood,” is probably the best extra on the disc. For all of the plots lack of coherence, the art direction was top notch. Southern California in the glory days of Hollywood was faithfully created and allowed the audience to immerse themselves in the gaudy hotel rooms and elegant parties. There are a few deleted scenes that do little to bring order to the convoluted plot. The final cut drags so much that anymore screen time would only be annoying and unwanted.

Overall, this is a DVD for the true fans of the movie. The film itself isn’t very good so anyone who hasn’t seen it should watch it before buying it. For those who are ambivalent toward the movie but want to own it should wait for a collector’s or special edition with at least two discs of extras because the time period this takes place in is a gold mine for documentaries and stories that might flesh out the film and make it better or at least more understandable. Then again, if this DVD doesn’t sell well, the possibility of a collector’s edition may be slim.

With gangster films such as “The Departed,” which was directed by Martin Scorsese and “Smokin’ Aces,” which didn’t take itself seriously at all, “Hollywoodland” feels like a lumbering bear that is too self-interested in itself to have any fun or know where it should go. Compared to Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello in “The Departed), Adrien Brody seems bored out of his mind. At the end of the day, the performances were good (Affleck’s being great) and the art direction was good. The culprit was the script and the writer, Paul Bernbaum, hamstringed this film from the get go. With a better script, “Hollywoodland” could have been the film it wanted to be.