21 movie rev Framing John DeLorean 1

When cars fly: Alec Baldwin as John DeLorean

Documentary, not rated, 109 minutes, Jean Cocteau Cinema and The Screen, 2.5 chiles

The story of automaker John DeLorean and his rise and fall is rich with daring, danger, and disaster. In some ways his tale is not unlike the story of Halston, the haute couturier limned in a recent documentary portrait. Both men rose from simple beginnings to dizzying heights through audacious design skills and larger-than-life swagger. Both acquired great wealth and surrounded themselves with beautiful women, albeit for different reasons. And both ended badly.

DeLorean, we are told, has been the subject of many, many stillborn film projects, of both documentary and biopic form. Filmmakers Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce decided to build their approach to this irresistible target on both fronts. Their film is ostensibly a documentary, but it is reinforced with a substantial barrage of reenactments, with Alec Baldwin portraying DeLorean and other actors in the roles of key figures in his life. Further complicating matters, we get some backstage time with Baldwin and Morena Baccarin (who plays DeLorean’s third wife, supermodel Cristina Ferrare) as they reflect on their characters. We first meet Baldwin in the makeup chair as a technician applies a latex prosthetic chin to replicate the one DeLorean acquired through surgery.

DeLorean’s story in a nutshell (into which it does not fit) is this: As a young hotshot engineer and designer, he made enough waves at General Motors in the ’60s to be given oversight of its Pontiac division and came up with the GTO, the “muscle car” that stood Detroit on its ear. But insubordination got him fired from GM, and he decided to form the DeLorean Motor Company. When unfortunate circumstances and questionable decisions put the company into dire financial straits and forced him to raise money, he tried to sell a large amount of cocaine and wound up being busted in an FBI sting operation. Further inquiry revealed financial chicanery that showed DeLorean to be an ethically compromised man.

There is a wealth of fascinating material in this “documentary,” but the scattershot approach to the material muddies and weakens its impact. There’s documentary black-and-white video from hidden cameras that recorded the FBI sting, intercut with color reenactment footage; there also are interviews with former colleagues and filmmakers and with DeLorean’s two children, a daughter who seems OK and a son who was seriously damaged by his father’s downfall.

The title appears designed to convey several meanings: the “framing” of DeLorean by the FBI entrapment scheme, the framing of the issue of this enigma of a man, and the framing of a portrait of an American original. Perhaps the ultimate irony of this movie about a man who defies being captured in a movie is this: His most enduring legacy may be in a movie, Back to the Future, which immortalizes his DeLorean DMC car as a time machine.