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In 'Hollywoodland,' Affleck delves deep, does a super job



Published: Thu, September 7, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The movie, which tends to drag at times, could have been faster paced.

By CHRISTY LEMIRE

AP MOVIE CRITIC

It should have been more decadent, this Los Angeles story of love, fame and jealousy. It should have been more lurid, with its competing conspiracy theories about murder vs. suicide and the high-powered players under suspicion.

Instead, "Hollywoodland" sidles up to you, glamorously looking the part but falling far short of delivering the goods.

An exploration of the 1959 death of TV's Superman, George Reeves (Ben Affleck), the film oozes period authenticity and features several strong performances, notably from Diane Lane, who's vibrant and vicious as Reeves' older, married mistress.

Even some of the supporting actors are powerful in the briefest of roles, including Joe Spano as MGM's ruthless publicist and Lois Smith as Reeves' grieving mother.

But there's something sadly inert about the feature debut from longtime television director Allen Coulter ("Sex and the City," "The Sopranos"), written by Paul Bernbaum. There's a lethargy to the pacing that makes it feel as if it will never end after only an hour. And there's a "who cares?" factor about a number of subplots, which should never happen in a film that purports itself to be a taut thriller.

Probing more

Typically wiry and intense, Adrien Brody stars as Louis Simo, a private detective who, in true noir fashion, is on the brink of being washed up when news hits that Reeves was found dead in his Hollywood Hills home. Los Angeles police close the case -- looks like the guy shot himself in his bedroom, let's move on -- but Reeves' mother, Helen Bessolo, hires Simo to dig deeper.

Coulter and Bernbaum flash backward and forward between the young actor achieving unexpected fame starring in "Adventures of Superman" and Simo meandering between meetings with various Hollywood fixtures. (The film does an amusing job of depicting the Ed Wood-style technology of the TV production, with Reeves in a grayish-brown leotard trying to soar through the air but instead falling flat on his face when the cables collapse.)

Having previously played a bit part in "Gone With the Wind," Reeves finds his professional and personal lives improve significantly when he becomes romantically involved with the gorgeous, flirtatious Toni Mannix (Lane). She's the wife of MGM chief Eddie Mannix (a perfectly crass Bob Hoskins), who's having an affair of his own and doesn't care about her dalliances. (A scene in which the four go out together for an expensive dinner is deliciously awkward.)

Lane is just dazzling as a woman who's smart enough to know that she's past her prime, but too insecure to keep herself from falling for this younger man who might just be taking advantage of her extraordinary generosity. She looks ravishing (as always) and wears the clothes beautifully, but she also shows moving flashes of vulnerability as her character ages toward the end.

Who did it?

Toni and/or Eddie might have been responsible for putting a bullet in Reeves, Simo figures. Or maybe it was his ambitious fianc & eacute;e, Leonore (Robin Tunney), who pulled the trigger after a boozy night of arguing.

None of these scenarios is nearly startling enough as an alternative to the hazy but long-held belief that Reeves shot himself after being typecast as the Man of Steel and seeing his career stall. ("Hollywoodland" suggests that he should have been edited out of "From Here to Eternity" after the audience hooted him at the premiere, but it also cleverly inserts Affleck into the classic film's footage.)

Coulter also wastes time exploring Simo's faltering home life, with an ex-wife (Molly Parker) who can't stand him and has moved onto someone new, and a son (Zach Mills) who doesn't trust him. None of this is terribly effective as a means of fleshing him out and explaining his motivation; neither is the nebulous relationship with his gal Friday, played by the likable Caroline Dhavernas.

But in watching "Hollywoodland," it's hard not to imagine how much Affleck must have related to Reeves while playing the part. Both rose faster than they ever could have imagined; both got stuck and sought opportunities to redeem their careers.

Affleck's efforts have had better results: This is the best work we've seen from him in a long time, and it reminds us that, given the right material (and perhaps the fact that he's wisely shied away from the limelight for a while) he can offer a certain charisma and even depth, and not just serve as a punch line.

He's managed to take advantage of an opportunity with "Hollywoodland" that the filmmakers themselves, for whatever reason, did not. That's the real mystery here.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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