Comedy/drama, 96 minutes, rated R, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 2.5 chiles
If James Franco looks a little younger to you in this madcap paean to Hollywood, it may be due to something more than his shaved head. The film has been languishing on the shelf for four years, ever since its original distributor went bust just after picking it up.
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, specifically the Tinseltown of 1969, and if the time and place seem familiar, these are the same coordinates for Quentin Tarantino’s current hit release, Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood. It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to hypothesize that the success of the Tarantino film helped rescue this one from mothballs.
Franco, who also directs, plays Vikar (alternately pronounced “vicar” and “vyker”), a moody loner with a whiff of Asperger’s who comes to the movie capital in that fateful year. He’s recently discovered the medium — at 24, he’d just seen his first movie, the George Stevens classic A Place in the Sun, and it made such an impression that he had its stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, tattooed on the back of that bald cranium.
Vikar wants to be a part of the movie-making magic, and he’s taken under the wing of a cigar-chomping insider known as Viking Man (Seth Rogan), a screenwriter who serves as Vikar’s Virgil through the inner workings of the Hollywood inferno. He meets veteran film editor Dotty Langer ( Jacki Weaver), who shows him the ropes of that discipline, and Vikar soon develops a reputation as a brilliant cutter. He goes to work for Rondell (Will Ferrell), a narcissistic producer. And he falls hard for a beautiful actress, Soledad (Megan Fox).
The structure is basically an armature for a tribute to the cinema, and it makes so many nods to classics that it feels like one of those drinking birds perched by a water glass. Along with A Place in the Sun there are extended references to movies of the ’70s (The Long Goodbye, Apocalypse Now, Love Story) and classics (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Sunset Boulevard, Casablanca), as well as throwaway lines (“We’ve got a great idea — a great white shark that terrorizes a New England village!”). The story, which was adapted from the Steve Erickson novel, ultimately leads to a conspiracy theory about “a secret movie that’s hidden in all the movies ever made.”
If it sounds chaotic, it is. Franco gets carried away with his own genius and winds up with a bit of a mess. It’s not an unlikable mess, and it has a real passion for the movies. But as Montgomery Clift (Dave Franco) tells Vikar, “Just because you love something doesn’t mean it loves you back.”