Something’s almost amiss


Focus Features

Directed by Allen Coulter

Written by Paul Bernbaum

Starring: Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck, Diane Lane, Chester Sinclair, Jeffrey DeMunn, Joe Spano and Bob Hoskins

Rated R/126 minutes

Opened Sept. 8, 2006

Two out of four stars

“Hollywoodland” has all the ingredients of a juicy neo-noir: an unsolved mystery, an amoral private investigator and the seedy underbelly of the Hollywood studio system.

It has the subject matter that could make a great thriller: One of the most notorious unsolved mysteries in Hollywood history, the death of “The Adventures of Superman” star George Reeves.

It has the look of a good mystery as we see the story unfold through a grainy, washed-out lens that makes the film look like a relic of the past. But somehow the film never achieves the feel of a film noir. We’ve seen countless examples of this style of film, the best example being “Chinatown.”

This film has the same elements of Polanski’s masterpiece, but none of the effectiveness. Plagued by lethargic pacing that prevents the film from generating much suspense, “Hollywoodland” takes the investigation of Reeves’ death, and all the variables that surrounded it, and turns it into a pedestrian-investigatory exercise. The ethics-challenged investigator, P.I. Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), certainly doesn’t seem to care much about the case, making it difficult for us to care. That, and Simo never really gets anywhere. The phrase “grasping at straws” comes to mind often.

Perhaps editing is the problem. They say a film is made in the editing room, and choices in this movie’s structure could have directly contributed to its lack of ability to create or sustain momentum. Simo’s halfhearted investigation is cross-cut with the rise and fall of Reeves himself (Ben Affleck). He’s an up-and-coming actor whose only claim to fame is that he had a small role in “Gone With the Wind.” He gets involved with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the wife of MGM head-honcho Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins). Toni supports George-and by “support,” I mean, she buys him a house and completely provides for him as he looks for work-and he eventually lands a lead role on a soon-to-be produced cheesy TV series, “The Adventures of Superman.”

George-and all involved, for that matter-considers the role a joke, and doesn’t think anyone will watch, anyway. But then it becomes a smash, and George begins to resent his own fame, believing he will never be taken seriously as an actor.

His concerns aren’t without merit. People don’t take him seriously as an actor and so, allegedly, he shoots himself. Or does he?

Doubts about the legitimacy of the suicide story have been around for decades; Simo, after being hired by George’s mother, finds clues that pose some disturbing questions?but that’s about as far as we get. Simo suspects Eddie Mannix, even discovering some blemishes in Eddie’s past to try to sell the story. But the investigation, and the film, comes to no avail.

I’m not sure what to make of Affleck’s performance-he seems to be genuinely trying to create a believable persona, but somehow it still comes across as strained acting. The bigger problem with that subplot is that he and Lane have absolutely no chemistry. They spend a lot of time together on screen and there’s never any heat.

Director Allen Coulter, making his feature-length debut after directing several episodes of such series as “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under,” has the visual storytelling part down. If only he could have married that with a threatening, mysterious atmosphere and a more convincing storyline, he might have had himself a nice slice of Hollywood noir.

“I CANNOT act. Why do people keep hiring me? I’m terrible. Really.” Ben Affleck muses on his paradoxical success in “Hollywoodland.”