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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Hurlyburly

Starring: Sean Penn, Robin Wright
Director: Anthony Drazan
Rated: R
RunTime: 122 Minutes
Release Date: December 1998
Genre: Drama

Review by Walter Frith
½ star out of 4

It would be easy to miss the point of a film like 'Hurlyburly'. That is if it had one. I've been a movie critic for 15 years and I don't think I've ever seen a more pointless film that rambles on and on and on like a broken record and when it's over, it's no closer to having said anything in its final 10 minutes than in its opening running time of the same length.

Set in Hollywood Hills, Eddie and Mickey (Sean Penn and Kevin Spacey) play room mates who are successful talent agency executives and are well on their way to becoming major Hollywood players. They wallow in all the excesses of classic tinsel town life. Snorting cocaine, picking up drifting hookers and bringing them home for wild sex, indulging themselves in the extremes of alcohol. And when it's all said and done, it's real but you won't care one bit.

Also along for the socially unredeeming ride is Phil (Chazz Palminteri). Phil is an ex-con who always wears a leather jacket and tries to pass himself off as the GQ end of the movie business. Nothing more than a Hollywood wannabe, Phil wants to be a stuntman and goes on endless cattle calls only to be passed over each time he auditions. Quick tempered and having had many different children with many different women, Phil is perhaps the most amoral of the bunch and his fate is of little consequence or surprise.

Others characters in the film are Artie (Gary Shandling). Artie is a close friend of Eddie and Mickey's who pops by for the occasional boys night out and his character is perhaps the most pointless male in the film. The female characters are even more disappointing. Meg Ryan is Bonnie, a stripper with a child who comes to party at the whim of a phone call. Robin Wright Penn is Darlene, an actress struggling to make it with more than just her talent and Anna Paquin is Donna, a drifter and air head who looks for her next meal ticket and place to call home around every corner.

'Hurlyburly' has a companion film in 1998 known as 'High Art'. This film knew when to listen and when to keep quiet. It displayed the seedy side of big city life, the consequences of drug use, and low morals with polish and a sedated side to its personality. 'Hurlyburly' is like a car wreck with no chance to breathe, an extremely high decibel level, and a screenplay by David Rabe, based on his play, that tries too hard to look like a well written piece of art when it is nothing more than a two hour play on semantics with a calculating sense of the preposterous.

Director Anthony Drazan is a slave to the film's screenplay, adding no injection of his own vision and there is a scene in the final third of the film where Eddie and Darlene have sex and upon leaving the bed, the long arm of a boom mic is visible in a mirror for about thirty seconds! This really is professional film making?!

How a cast like this could be coaxed into such a mess is a mystery. Despite their energy and convincing styles, I suspect that they wanted to make a film with long takes, limited editing and a chance to put any actor's true test of talent (the stage) on celluloid in a filmed stage play that is as desirable to watch as falling into a bottomless pit.

Copyright 1998 Walter Frith

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