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"The Black Dahlia"

Directed by Brian De Palma.
Written by Josh Friedman.  Based on a novel by James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential).
Starring Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  9/28/06


I haven't seen too many movies the last two weeks, because everything that is coming out either looks like dogshit or has been eaten alive by critics as being dogshit.  It's hard to get motivated when movies featuring casts like the one from "All the King's Men" get slaughtered by every critic in America; last night, out of sheer boredom, I went to the local multiplex to see "The Black Dahlia" because Brian De Palma--the director of "Scarface"!!--might have a chance to redeem recent past missteps, such as, oh, "Mission to Mars", easily the worst film released in 2000.

"The Black Dahlia" does have a few things going for it, but it still isn't that great.

Josh Hartnett--for my money, maybe the guy that has worked with the most superstars in the last five years and might be THE Charlie Sheen of our time--stars as Bucky Bleichert, aka Ice, a former boxer-turned-homicide cop in 1946 Los Angeles.  Along with his partner, Lee "Fire" Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), these two are assigned a gruesome murder case to solve--a struggling actress (Mia Kirshner) was chopped in half and left with almost no internal organs and a shredded face in the middle of a witnesses, no motive, no suspects.  The case drags Fire and Ice through a series of exercises to track down leads, including a rich bisexual heiress (Hilary Swank), her crazy set of in-laws, and shady criminals that have given our boy Lee some problems in the past.  And, we get to watch some flashback moments as we learn more about the actress and why she may have gotten herself into some trouble.  All the while, Lee's girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson) gives support to the partners as they delve deeper into the case.

"The Black Dahlia" isn't completely awful, but it is a solid bet for badness.  I think the main reason for this is that the acting here just didn't feel right; I understand that you want to go over the top a bit, especially if you are trying to emulate the feel of the filmmaking of the "old days."  But, why do that, even if your story is based on something 60 years ago?  Eckhart and Johansson--even Swank, at times--are MUCH worse than I can ever remember them in a movie; for Johansson, this might be the only time I can think of where I completely didn't like her in a role.  Eckhart's efforts to make it seem like he really cares about what is happening in the case felt fake, which leads you to not buy a single bit when his character tries to come up with excuses as to what he is doing to solve the damned thing.  Swank's accent was, what, European?  Scottish, specifically?  Maybe Irish?  Maybe she was just lost, or maybe her dialect coach just told her to make it up, but to sound educated and rich while doing it...either way, Swank was as bad in "The Black Dahlia" as she was great in "Million Dollar Baby."  Hartnett sticks to what he does best--look cool and vaguely interested in what's happening around him.  He comes out of this film unscathed.

Attach the performances to a script that had me turned around for all of the wrong reasons--characters I didn't care about, a murder that doesn't happen until 30 minutes into the movie, a victim that creates no drama and even less intrigue about why someone would want her dead, supporting characters that appear to be weird for the sake of being weird, and a cameo by k.d. lang that has to be one of the most random cameos in the history of film.  The film is quite gruesome at times; the state of the victim is enough to make some folks hurl just at the sight of the gaping knife gash that reshaped her face.  The soundtrack...well, the soundtrack was bad, too.

What is good is the look of the film; I enjoy period pieces like this, and at least that part of the movie looks excellent.  Our characters look good while acting out this nonsense; as usual, smoking does look cool onscreen even if we know if it truly awful for you.  Other than that, "The Black Dahlia" is pretty bad.  Even on video, you'll find yourself checking your watch to see when this puppy might be over.  Don't worry, it'll be a while...

Rating:  Rental


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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, 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/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09