By CHRIS HEWITT
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
Bill Murray gets his "About Schmidt" moment in the comedy/drama "Broken Flowers."
It's that character he has been playing lately: bemused, fuzzy, unhappy to find himself in middle age with little to show for it.
The character is a good fit with director Jim Jarmusch ("Mystery Train," "Ghost Dog"), because Murray has become an actor who delights in doing as little as possible -- his signature gesture: eyes that move in an immobile face -- and Jarmusch has always been a director with a less-is-more aesthetic.
So, don't expect "Broken Flowers" to be a broken-down-guy-is-transformed-by-the-wonder-of-life movie. It's more like a broken-down-guy-finally-opens-his-eyes-and-rethinks-being-a-hermit movie.
At the beginning, Murray receives a (possibly inauthentic) letter advising him he has a 20-year-old son. He doesn't know who the letter's from, so he begrudgingly decides to dig up some old girlfriends and find out.
That plot point gives the movie a quest but, more importantly, it gives it a chance to employ Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton in delectable cameo roles.
It would be wrong of me to consider this a competition, but Lange wins it hands down with a brimming-over-with-life portrait of a confidently wacko animal psychic.
In just a couple of scenes, Lange slyly suggests that this woman has secrets, and they are juicy, and she's not going to tell us any of 'em.
Jarmusch has given the movie an intriguing structure that begins outside Murray's character -- at first, we think he's a lech and a slob -- but gradually gets closer to understanding him (as represented by a scene in which he gets punched and the screen goes to black, as if it's inside his head).
Each of the women he visits is less eager to see him than the last, which feels like a clue.
So does our -- and Murray's -- realization that he had virtually no impact on the lives of these women.
As the movie ambles along, Murray's quest to figure out what has become of his life begins to feel like when you search for misplaced car keys.
You may discover a few items along the way, but you're only going to find them in the last place you look.