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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Comic Book Heroes Never Grow Old
by Donald Levit

Television director Allen Coulter’s feature-début Hollywoodland turns out better than, and different from, its press. The title is more indicative of the contents than writer Paul Bernbaum’s original, more limiting "Truth, Justice and the American Way," to which rights were denied. Those hoping for ‘fifties kitsch will come up short: the era’s Tinseltown and its powerbrokers are faithfully depicted but not emphasized and not really the story. Those seeking hard-edged mystery will be dissatisfied because of the film’s leisurely buildup and non-resolution ambiguity.

But while the surface promises nostalgia and noir, patience will reveal a subcurrent which, if rather too pat, ripples outwards. Where better than in the belly of the Dream Machine to picture the illusions of the individual coming up against reality? Appropriately at a Beverly Hills funeral, MGM strongman-public relations “fixer” Eddie Mannix’s (Bob Hoskins) enforcer warns frustrated small-potatoes private eye Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) that “true or false doesn’t matter, [but] if it stops one person from buying a ticket, I need to fix it.” The opposite of today, amidst references to, and “cameos” by, that Golden Era’s legends, private scandals are swept under studio carpets by money, muscle or murder, while the small guy goes along because there are mortgage payments to be met.

Not the easy exposé it might seem, however, the tale is about image -- not publicity’s picture but the one each individual carries of himself and his or her life. Reinforced by the fleeting “another seven good years” of physical attractiveness left to ex-bouncer-mobster Eddie’s second wife Toni (Diane Lane) -- later sunlight-aged in an inspired scene -- the center is the midlife crises (AMS. aging male syndrome) of two convincing paralleled leads. One is today’s trivia fodder George Reeves (a beefed-up Ben Affleck), whose shooting death opens all into motion but whose pervasive appearance is integrated beyond plain flashback and partly occurs within the investigator’s mental re-creations. Estranged from Valley wife Laurie (Molly Parker) and son “Scout” Evan (Zach Mills), persona non grata with police and goons, the other, Simo, sleeps in his apartment-office with his sometime assistant-wannabe actress who complains he does not know her or her acting. Simo needs cash but has only one client (Larry Cedar) in a possible adultery case that turns out horribly wrong.

With hubby’s tacit consent -- so long as no one hurts her -- Toni is Reeves’s mistress and has bought and made him. But in spite of largely bottom-credited parts in some thirty movies including Gone with the Wind, The Strawberry Blonde, So Proudly We Hail! and From Here to Eternity, his acting aspirations have been swallowed up in pilot Superman and the Mole Men/The Unknown People and TV’s hugely popular kiddie Adventures of Superman. Typecast and frustrated, the former Golden Glover can get little more than proposed wrestling gigs through his one-client agent Art Weissman (Jeffrey DeMunn). He leaves Toni for brazen starlet Leonora Lemmon (Robin Tunney) -- “who makes me feel young” -- but is ready to break off their engagement.

At 1:05 am in his empty upstairs bedroom, a Luger shot to the right temple ends  Reeves’s life at forty-five. Overlooking, or concealing, evidence that includes bruises and two additional bullet holes in the floor, the LAPD, coroner’s office and press give the death out as suicide. Rejecting that verdict, the actor’s mother (Lois Smith) hires Simo. Reeves hid his smoking from juvenile fans, and smart-aleck gum-chewer Simo winds up on cigarettes, too, and Jack Daniel’s, as he defies studio and police pressure, takes a few lumps, courts his son’s affection, and tries to sort out make-believe and motives where “things are not what they seem.”

The list is long of films that would questionably lay to rest celebrity crimes, although the truest moviedom self-portraits are fictions like Gods and Monsters and, of course, Sunset Boulevard, flashback-narrated by a corpse and whose apt Brackett-Wilder story (“A Can of Worms”) and dialogue (“they’ll love it everyplace”; “as long as the lady’s paying”) loom in Hollywoodland. More mythic-literary idols are allowed to wrinkle and die -- Holmes in Sussex, Arthur to Avalon, Robin Hood and the Sheriff until Hepburn’s Marian saves them from middle-aged foolishness -- while drawn evergreen heroes are not. Nothing but a man, flesh-and-blood is not faster than a speeding bullet or Time’s chariot. Both WWII vets dragging father issues, man and superman, living and dead, detective and actor grow close. The latter may -- or may not -- have bowed out on his own. Though in this City of Angels “nobody asks to be happy later,” the gumshoe does just that, accepts the role dealt him, returns as paterfamilias. Therein lies the solution to life, not death. 

(Released by Focus Features and rated “R” for language, some violence, and sexual content.)

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