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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.07%
Worth A Look: 20.48%
Pretty Bad: 6.02%
Total Crap: 22.89%

9 reviews, 29 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"Sputters out despite high-powered cast."
3 stars

Seeing 'Hurlyburly' the movie is, for most of us, the next best thing to being there -- "there" being Chicago, where 'Hurlyburly' the play was introduced in 1984, with a cast including Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Christopher Walken, and Sigourney Weaver under Mike Nichols' direction. In this case, however, second best isn't nearly good enough.

In the movie, adapted by David Rabe from his play and directed by Anthony (Zebrahead) Drazan, we get high-octane actors from stage and screen. What we don't get is a break from Rabe's relentless hammering. On stage, the characters were at a comfortable remove from the audience; here, Drazan's camera jams us up against the men as they snarl and snort. What may once have been intimate and voyeuristic is now in-your-face and tiresome.

Hurlyburly is set around Hollywood, among the bottom-feeders of the industry -- the agents, the struggling actors, the topless dancers. Daydreams of fame and success have rotted their brains and souls. In truth, though, the story could be set anywhere; it's just that L.A., as they say, is like everywhere else only more so. Beneath the trappings of Hollywood and the dusting of cocaine lies a moralistic tale about men who don't know themselves, who abuse women but reserve the worst abuse for their own bodies and brain cells. In plays like this, macho anguish and artfully inarticulate soliloquies rub elbows with the promise of violence. All of which works fine if the playwright is David Mamet; if not, not.

Neurotic Eddie (Sean Penn), detached Mickey (Kevin Spacey), hulking, tormented Phil (Chazz Palminteri), weaselly Artie (Garry Shandling) -- these men are all broken, and we watch as they crack apart. Rabe, who also wrote the very speechy Streamers, concocts the sort of keyed-up rants that actors cherish -- and that audiences cherish more on the stage than on the screen. Penn might've been powerful in the play (he headlined a 1988 revival), but in the movie he's still playing to the back row. After a while you just monitor his technique; it's a twisty-faced performance without the subtlety or wit of his best screen work. Spacey, slipping into the role that Walken originated, has his usual deadpan charm, but some of his line readings ring false -- they're so deadpan they're wooden. Palminteri is fine as a man burning in self-disgust, but could any actor make sense of Phil? The realism of a movie further strains his plausibility, which might have made better sense within the artifice of the stage.

Women, of course, exist in Hurlyburly to be bruised and tossed -- literally, in Meg Ryan's case; she plays a promiscuous erotic dancer whom Phil throws out of her own moving car. Ryan is similarly thrown away in the film; though she plays her part well, she seems like a visiting cutie-pie trying on grungy attitudes for size, and she takes you out of the movie. Anna Paquin is on hand as a teen runaway made up to look like a cross between Alicia Silverstone and Katie Holmes; she doesn't have the innocence I've seen in photos of Cynthia Nixon, who played the role on stage. The most interesting actress, Robin Wright Penn, is handed the least interesting character -- Darlene, a cipher who sleeps with Eddie. (Weaver played it on the stage, and probably brought some humor to it.) Here, the Penns strike none of the sparks that they did in She's So Lovely.

Finally, Hurlyburly is yet another story that didn't need to be told as a movie. Drazen tries hard to "open out" the play -- having long conversations spread out over several locations, on car phones, in the office -- and I liked what he did with a scene in which Sean Penn lies under a glass table while other characters talk to him and are reflected on the surface. It's a deft way to have actors speak face-to-face while showing us both faces -- I liked it when Jonathan Demme did it in The Silence of the Lambs, too. But mainly the movie feels too stagebound. Rabe has streamlined the dialogue, sacrificing a lot of funny throwaway lines without lessening the script's burden on our patience.

It takes a real wizard of words -- say, Mamet in 'American Buffalo,' or even Richard Linklater in 'Before Sunrise' (which was never a play, always a movie) -- to turn an actor's dream into a movie dream as well.

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originally posted: 01/10/07 09:03:43
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User Comments

5/29/16 Sheller Shit review. Great talky type of movie, good examination of psychosis and neurosis 4 stars
1/10/16 Caroline Winter Unbearable. Insufferable and full of itself. 1 stars
4/30/14 Mr Right Efficiency tip: watch first 15 min & last 15; you'll get full value + save yourself 100 min 2 stars
7/19/12 Luigi Great film, worthless review 5 stars
3/21/08 Ozan My favorite play & movie ever; a masterpiece completely misunderstood, like all genius is. 5 stars
7/02/07 fools♫gold What sarcasm? 5 stars
3/09/06 JLZ Total crap, indeed. 1 stars
11/17/04 psycho black dwarf A well-written, if not well-crafted "get over yourself" movie. 4 stars
5/11/04 Kooler Ugh--the kind of screenwriting hollywood thinks is intelligent and edgy. An embarrassment. 2 stars
6/11/03 Hottie okay 3 stars
4/01/03 Jack Sommersby Here, here, Charles! 1 stars
11/25/02 Charles Tatum Odious garbage that made me want a shower 1 stars
8/19/02 Mike Brilliant 5 stars
10/14/00 comeasur a reflection of the sickness in modern society. not a surprise that it is set hollywood. 4 stars
10/08/00 matthew nice? no. a tour de force for actors, brilliant, even meg ryan was 5 stars
8/08/00 Aron Tym Anderson An absolutely brilliant film, for those that can recognize one. 5 stars
3/11/00 JonnyAngel I can't explain but it's become a cult favorite of my cult 5 stars
1/08/00 seldom scene I was waiting for something to happen-This would make a better play than movie 3 stars
9/16/99 Ratso I thought this was a documentary on Sean Penn. Ooops. 1 stars
8/24/99 mard if you like coke and "fuck" this movie is for you otherwise who cares about these people? 2 stars
2/18/99 Derek Widely misunderstood movie. Great portrait of failure to connect w/ others in modern world 5 stars
2/15/99 emma mindblowing cast, mindnumbing movie 2 stars
2/01/99 Bridgette more like 3 1/2 stars, but spacey is wonderful 4 stars
1/22/99 Jeff good--love spacy--who know Meg Ryan was such a hottie as a coke head stripper?? 4 stars
1/12/99 Doobie Boy I was looking forward to this film, but it wasn't what I hoped. 3 stars
1/09/99 crc great cast (except ryan), wasteful, boring film. Long, dull-get ready to walk out early 1 stars
1/08/99 Movie Geezer Pathetic waste of time and talent. As bad a film as I have ever seen. 1 stars
12/30/98 The Dude Fucking great movie , Fucking great cast and it has Garry Shandling. 5 stars
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Directed by
  Anthony Drazan

Written by
  David Rabe

  Sean Penn
  Robin Wright Penn
  Kevin Spacey
  Chazz Palminteri
  Meg Ryan
  Garry Shandling

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