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Boogie Nights

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Boogie Nights

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Rated: R
RunTime: 152 Minutes
Release Date: October 1997
Genres: Drama, Music

*Also starring: Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, Alfred Molina, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Robert Ridgely, Melora Walters, Luis Guzman

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
3 stars out of 4

In terms of highly anticipated films, "Boogie Nights" is the 500 pound gorilla of the fall season. For months, through reports from trade screenings and film festivals, the buzz for this sprawling look at the L. A. world of pornographic filmmaking in the 70s has been phenomenal. The big surprise is that the actual movie almost lives up to all of the hype. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's wildly entertaining epic captures the late 70s/early 80s era in all its tacky glory, with terrific performances from a large ensemble cast. To be sure, the film has its problems. After a near-perfect first hour and a half, Anderson stumbles badly during an abrupt transition in tone, but quickly regains his footing for a powerhouse wrap-up. "Boogie Nights" is two and one half hours long, but the time whizzes by.

The film tells the rags-to-riches-to-rags story of a young man with a dream. 17-year-old busboy Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) believes that "everyone is blessed with one special gift." In Eddie's case, the gift is a 13" penis and boundless sexual energy. Seasoned porn filmmaker Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) discovers the kid and before you can say John Holmes, Eddie becomes Dirk Diggler, porn superstar.

A great deal of the fun in "Boogie Nights" comes from Anderson's perfect re-creation of the outrageous attitudes and godawful fashions of the 70s, the most embarrassing decade in memory. Bad taste reigned supreme back then, and it's all up there on the screen; a leisure-suited, polyester paean to days gone by. It was an era of unparalleled hedonism as well, and the film overflows with scenes of copious drug use and unprotected sex. In the 70s, pornography went from being everyone's dirty little secret to actually becoming trendy; accordingly, Jack Horner and his entourage wheel around Los Angeles like kings and queens.

Once a movie star, more recently a national joke, Burt Reynolds reclaims his career with his portrayal of Jack Horner. Reynolds ditches his trademark smirks and cackles, playing the character in an straightforward, extremely assured manner. Jack Horner is a wry old pro who knows the business of pornography, and Reynold's performance is earning him the respect he has always almost had. As Dirk Diggler, Mark Wahlberg is excellent, evolving from shallow kid to pampered superstar to desperate stoner, all while maintaining a disarming sense of naiveté.

In real life, Burt Reynolds and Mark Wahlberg have led similar careers. Both became pop icons by taking their clothes off (Reynolds as the first male centerfold in Cosmopolitan, Wahlberg in the legendary Calvin Klein underwear ads.) Both mismanaged their fame and saw their careers decline. It's ironic that the men have now achieved redemption in a film dealing with sex, drugs and violence. Ironic, and kind of nice.

Wahlberg and Reynolds aren't the only good actors here. The casting of "Boogie Nights" is virtually flawless, with standout performances from Julianne Moore as Amber Waves, the earth mother of the group; "Swingers" Heather Graham as the blissed-out Rollergirl and Don Cheadle as Buck Swope, a porn actor whose real ambition is to open up a "really bitchin' stereo store."

27-year-old Anderson's influences show in both the structure and the film techniques of "Boogie Nights," not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Beginning with a long, gliding track shot, the first two thirds of the film are reminiscent of Martin Scorcese's "Goodfellas," with hints of Robert Altman's "Nashville." The last third of the film comes straight from the hyper-violent land of "Pulp Fiction's" Quentin Tarantino, with a twisted homage to Scorcese's "Raging Bull" wrapping things up. Anderson's big stumble comes in the films last third, as the action shifts from the decadent late 70s to the greedy 80s. After an hour and a half of giddy randomness, Anderson lunges into a cluster of scenes depicting various characters suffering a variety of nasty consequences to their earlier actions. The sequences badly thrown off the rhythm of the film, making it feel like some demented Afterschool Special. Luckily, he regains his balance quickly, leading into a terrifying, dazzling segment of a drug deal gone wrong that ranks among the most riveting scenes ever laid down on film.

To its credit, "Boogie Nights" doesn't make any grand statement about the human condition. The film is just a series of stories about a intriguing group of people during a very goofy and dangerous period of American culture. What makes this film transcendent is Anderson's vast talent and the sheer exhilaration of his vision. Each of us is blessed with one special gift and Anderson certainly has discovered his.

Copyright © 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott

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