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"Auto Focus"

Directed by Paul Schrader ("American Gigolo", "Affliction").
Written by Michael Gerbosi.
Starring Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson and Maria Bello.
Release Year:  2002
Review Date:  11/4/02

Folks--

99 bottles of Bellview on the wall, 99 bottles of Bellview!  One film from 100 and it’s only the first week of November.  Man, this was easy!  And, now that I have a lot more free time on my hands, the only question is:  150?  Maybe that is just asking for too much.

My buddy Ross was in town this weekend, and what better way to close out a good weekend than to catch a flick?  Ross balked on “I Spy” so we took in the indie fetish flick “Auto Focus”, on the life and times of former “Hogan’s Heroes” star Bob Crane.

Greg Kinnear stars as the handsome radio-turned-TV personality Crane, and the movie follows Crane from his first season on the television program through his rough career stretch shortly after the show ended.  On the personal side, “Auto Focus” deals with Crane’s marriage to wife Anne (Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks’ wife and occasional actress), which is dealt a constant blow by Bob’s excessive cheating with almost any woman that he comes in contact with.  This leads to a retelling of Crane’s sex addiction, and his partnership with a strange video equipment specialist (Willem Dafoe) that leads to disastrous results later in the film.

Director Paul Schrader (“Affliction”, with Nick Nolte) does an incredible job of capturing the look and feel of the 60s, from the costumes to the color scheme to the aw-shucks nature of some of the characters in Crane’s life at the time.  Kinnear once again makes you forget the “Talk Soup” days with another impressive performance, and the range of his character’s role allows him to shine in, ahem, more ways than one.  There are lots of funny bits in the rise portion of the film, as we catch a glimpse of Crane’s work on “Hogan’s Heroes” as well as...well, his take on different kinds of breasts.  Although this guy is cheating on his wife of fifteen years and his three children, I didn’t hate him...in fact, I was almost pulling for the guy to make everything work out, even though I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

But, as in all rise-and-fall films (Ross called out “Blow” of being guilty of roughly the same offenses as this film), the fall portion is not very good and even though Schrader does a good job of separating the portions of the film (his shots in the fall portion are often out of focus, in a faded color scheme, with jerky camera movements, etc.), what is happening onscreen is not very interesting.  Crane’s habit of trying to explain away all that he has done wrong gets tired by the film’s final half-hour, and there is just no way around it since we need to have explained to us just what happened to Crane in real life.  And, my goodness, Willem Dafoe!!  As much as I like the guy, I just can’t honestly say that I like him enough to look at him for extended periods with his shirt off.  He is just so strange looking that he is often a distraction, and this isn’t good when I am supposed to believe that his character was regularly getting laid with Bob Crane and random hot women.  Dafoe channels his pitiful character’s agony well as the film goes on, but sometimes, when you look at him, all you can see is a really strange-looking guy with some of the worst teeth in film history.

So, “Auto Focus” ends up being a mixed bag.  But, like any good Matinee film, you can’t go too wrong with it if you see it in the daytime.

Rating:  Matinee

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09