Wednesday, January 24, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia
Rated: R
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson,
Hilary Swank, Mia Kirschner
Directed by; Brian De Palma
Run time: 2 hours
The 1947 Black Dahlia murder is many things: tragic, gruesome, puzzling, unthinkable, sad and unsolved.

Unfortunately, this wretched movie doesn't adequately cover any of those aspects or shed any new light on the puzzling murder, dismemberment, and subsequent sensational media coverage of Ms. Elizabeth "Betty" Short. In fact, the crime is barely touched upon in this laughable piece of claptrap from blowhard director De Palma.

The film is based on the James Ellroy (LA Confidential) novel and deals with two detectives who worked the Dahlia case, along with many others in LA during that period. Officer Dwight " Bucky" Bleichart (Hartnett, Lucky # Slevin) and Sgt. Lee Blanchard (Eckhart, Thank You For Smoking) are a pair of former world class boxers who went by the name "Fire & Ice" in their pugilistic hey-days and now fight crime together for the LAPD.

Back up a minute. Do you see what's wrong from the start?

The main character is a pretty-boy named Bucky with an Alfalfa hairdo who used to be a boxer and is now a cop. His former partner-in-punching is now his superior at the depart-ment and the two of them had a nickname that makes the Ricky Bobby "Shake & Bake" catchphrase seem genius by comparison.

Okay, I thought, I'm going to try to get past this foolishness and give the film a chance. However, about 6:00 in and just after some of the fellas in the precinct threw the term "Jew boys" around a couple of times, I was about to give up for good; the next scene depicted Bucky's crazy, Nazi-loving father shooting pigeons outside his window with an old handgun. Wow...

Pressing on we learn that Lee has a girlfriend who just happens to be a voluptuous blond named Kay Lake (Johansson, Match Point), and the two live together in a posh apartment bought with stashed away "fight money." From the minute Bucky locks eyes with the sultry Kay there is absolutely no doubt the two will hook up, it's just a matter of when, how, and what will be the consequence? There is absolutely no drama there.
(gratuitous Scarlett photo )

By the twenty minute mark, there has yet to be even a mention of the Dahlia case. Plenty of nonsense about a child rapist on the loose who Bucky is hell-bent on bringing to justice, and another man set to get out of jail soon who has a connection to Kay that is inconsequential to the plot but nothing related to the infamous murder.

Finally, twenty five minutes into this thing, the title character rears her severed head, incidentally discovered after Bucky & Lee are involved in a shootout. In a small lot behind the scene of the gunfight, we see the dissected body of Betty Short, blood drained from her corpse and mouth carved into a rictus grin. At last, the heart of the tale will take over and we will be swept up in the fury surrounding one of the most notorious murder cases of the era.

Wrong...

What we get instead is a tepid love triangle between Bucky, Lee, and Kay. Lee descends into madness over his obsession with the Dahlia case. Yawn. We hardly see him actually investi-gating the case, but we are to believe it is so harrowing to him that he is losing sleep over it and becoming abusive to poor Kay. Kay responds by coming on to Bucky, but he can't bring himself to betray his partner--yet. As a way to get his mind off of Kay's advances, Bucky hooks up with a society girl who may have a connection to Betty. Madeline Linscott (Swank, Million Dollar Baby) is the daughter of a wealthy businessman hiding the fact that she has a taste for the other side of the fence as far as partners go. When Bucky learns she may have had a relationship with Short in the weeks prior to her death, he beds her in order to get to the truth. Or, something like that.

To say it's hard to picture Swank, who previously has been known for her roles as a 'man' (Boys Don't Cry) and a tomboy boxer (MDB), as a sexy swinging socialite was a bit of a stretch to say the least. But, no more of a stretch than hearing Gen -Y starlet Hartnett attempt to use a gravelly voice while uttering phrases like, " I'm saving myself for Rita Hayworth." Ugh.

Bucky and Maddie soon jump in the sack and Bucky starts to piece together clues gleaned from Maddie about Short's supposed involvement in the underground porn scene. This allows De Pervert to show some black & white footage of Short (Kirschner, The L Word) and another woman partaking in acts involving leather straps and sex toys. The whole seedy storyline had the feel of a bad retro- L Word, and it was unfortunate that the only way we got to know the victim was through desperation-laden audition tapes. Even sadder when you realize that there has never been any evidence to substantiate the claims that Short was ever a prostitute or porn actress-it's just an excuse for De Palma to juice up this ridiculous movie of the weak.

By now, I get the gist that this film is no more about the murder of Betty Short than Spike Lee's Summer of Sam was about the Son of Sam killings; the murder is merely a vehicle to carry us through the lives of people who have tangential relationships to the famous slayings. But, where SOS captured the anxiety, fear, and atmosphere of the era it was portraying, Dahlia always feels like it's just a bunch of actors going through the motions on a Hollywood sound stage.

To sum this mess up, it turns out that Madeline's eccentric family had something to do with Short's murder but it is never plausibly explained why. Bucky & Kay's hookup had all the steam of a lukewarm cup of tea, and all the other plot developments were met with either a yawn or a "who cares?"

Bottom line is this film failed to accomplish much of anything except to serve as resume padding for the actors and for a former great director to get his rocks off by further tarnishing the image of the pitiful victim in this gruesome crime. It basically had nothing to do with the actual crime itself and everything to do with a bunch of sad sack losers who nobody gives two shits about when all is said & done.

How bad was it? I neglected to mention the ridiculous spon-taneous earthquake, Bucky's tooth being knocked out onto a table during a bout, the overly melodramatic music, painfully bad dialogue, and worst but not least, a cameo by KD Lang as a singer in a lesbian nightclub.

In one painful piece of dialogue Maddie says to Bucky " I think you'd rather f**k me than kill me, but I don't think you have the guts to do either."

Well, Mr. De Palma, to paraphrase Ms. Maddie I think you tried to f**k us rather than make a good movie, and you certainly accomplished one part of that equation.

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