Screens Where the film fails

Atom Egoyan missteps with his leading lady

Atom Egoyan, one of today’s truly unique cinematic voices, has made a movie or two that reached wide audiences (The Sweet Hereafter probably being the most popular). But he has never made one as conventional as Where the Truth Lies, a mystery that generally avoids his tendency to weave disparate storylines into one narrative. And he has rarely made one as unaffecting. Whether this move toward simplicity is a response to the criticism received by his last film (the dense and underrated Ararat, clearly a tale close to Egoyan’s heart) or not, it is unlikely to please followers of this filmmaker whose best work is loaded with emotional ambiguity.

Kevin Bacon, left, and Colin Firth, right, play a former comedic duo who split after a girl is found dead in their hotel room. An enterprising journalist, played by Alison Lohman, center, is willing to go under covers to get the story.

Centering on a team of comedians bearing more than a slight resemblance to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, the story begins the night the act splits up under a cloud of scandal. After hosting a telethon to raise money to fight polio, the two return to their luxury hotel suite to find a naked girl’s body submerged in their tub. Circumstances keep the performers themselves from being suspects in the death — the official line is that it was accidentally self-inflicted — but the two never perform together again.

Cut to 15 years later, when Karen O’Connor, a Los Angeles journalist specializing in celebrity profiles (Lohman, who played Nic Cage’s daughter in Matchstick Men), lands a peach of a gig: She will help one of the comics, Colin Firth’s Vince Collins, write his memoirs. With the publisher paying a million dollars for story rights, everyone expects some juicy material. If Collins is reluctant to discuss the most salacious topic, though, O’Connor stumbles across an angle any writer would kill for: She accidentally meets Collins’ old partner Lanny Morris (Bacon) socially, and winds up going to bed with him.

Where the Truth Lies

Dir. Atom Egoyan; writ. Rupert Holmes (novel), Egoyan; feat. Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth, Alison Lohman, Sonja Bennett, Rachel Blanchard, Kathryn Winslow (Unrated)

In the course of all this, O’Connor hears stories of off-stage debauchery that would forever ruin the image of America’s once-favorite buddy act. Egoyan isn’t shy about depicting orgies and midday trysts, and in fact got into a scuffle with the MPAA over the film’s explicit scenes. The effect in general, though, is to “reveal” a seedy side of innocent ’50s entertainment that viewers have known about for decades. What’s more stirring in this portrait is not the idea that the stars were promiscuous, but the glimpses we get — particularly in a scene in which Firth beats a bar patron who gets too nasty heckling Bacon — of just how brutal the performers were in defense of their innocuous image.

There’s an element to this story that might fit Egoyan perfectly, but Lohman is miscast badly enough to throw the film off balance. She’s unbelievable as a savvy journalist, and awkward in the high-stakes publishing world the movie depicts. With her at the movie’s center, critical elements fail to gel. By the time the film’s Truth is revealed, it doesn’t carry the mythical weight that would have lifted the movie above its genre.

By John DeFore

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