Ben Down Too Long

Deep down in that part of the soul that houses whatever integrity and artistic good sense one has, it feels wrong to say this. Wrong like enjoying Bum Fights too much. But, believe it or not, it’s not Adrien Brody as a publicity-grubbing private dick in search of original Superman actor George Reeves’s murderer who keeps you watching Hollywoodland. Nor is it the lame dialogue that sounds like a junior-high kid’s attempt at writing his

Dir. Allen Coulter; writ. Paul Bernbaum; feat. Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney (R)

own Chinatown. No, the reason you’ll keep watching Hollywoodland rather than falling asleep as you probably should is `insert drum roll here` none other than Mrs. Matt Damon, Ben Affleck.

`Insert gasps and stunned silence.`

But it’s true, really. As Reeves, the square-jawed joke you hate for scoring way too many hot chicks, Affleck only appears in flashbacks, but it’s these flashbacks, the chance to empathize with this charming, noble-hearted loser who can’t face up to his own inadequacy, that makes anything about this film interesting.

Brody’s unremarkable dick — ahem — is on the hunt for Reeves’s real killer, you see, since the police have, he’s convinced, intentionally labeled the death a suicide under pressure from MGM’s grizzly chief Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins). There are sub-plots about the dick’s ex-wife and son, a secretary he’s boning, and yet another about a client who’s convinced his wife is cheating on him, but none of them do a thing to move the story forward. “Economy” must not be part of the filmmakers’ vocabulary.

This is Brody’s fifth film since he won the Best Actor Oscar for The Pianist and he’s yet to confirm that the win hasn’t gone to his head. When is this guy going to stop choosing roles that has-beens take when struggling to make a comeback? The retard in The Village was bad enough, the writer in King Kong made you snore, but his private dick, the one on display here, will make you want to burn your copy of The Pianist.

On the other hand, Reeves proves to be Affleck’s most intriguing role to date. The nobody actor – um, Reeves – is convinced he could be one of the greats (still talking about Reeves here), but it’s entirely possible he has an inflated, though innocently naïve, view of his own talents (Reeves, not Affleck, remember). He lives as the “mistress” of Mannix’s wife (Lane); she’s bought him a house and finances his life. The guy hates his role on Superman, too; finds it utterly degrading and an insult to his craft. In the end, he dies broke and emotionally alone.

And Affleck plays him with everything he’s got, making the flailing actor’s plight the heart of the story. If the rest of the film was cut and Reeves’s story expanded into a proper biopic, Hollywoodland would be something worth seeing. In the meantime, it’s a slow, plodding affair that has an inflated sense of worth — much like Reeves in the film. The only mystery this murder tale offers up is, why doesn’t Affleck deliver performances like this more often?
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