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THE BLACK DAHLIA: The Bloom is Off
Mia Kirshner. Picture by Rolf Konow/ Universal Pictures
By Brandon Judell
Good trailer; bad film.
Brian De Palma, who scared the bejesus out of us with his Hitchcock paeans "Carrie," "Dressed to Kill" and the underrated "Blow Out," has also directed some spectacular flops over the last four decades such as "The Bonfire of the Vanities," "Snake Eyes" and "Casualties of War."
"The Black Dahlia" fits neatly into the latter category, but not without a few moments to truly relish.
This convoluted film noir, based on a novel by James Ellroy, uses the actual death of Elizabeth Short as its centerpiece. Ms. Short, whose life ended in 1947, was a wannabe starlet, whose longed-for fame rests upon her vicious slaughter and not her limited thespian capabilities. Yes, her body was sliced in half, disemboweled, and drained of blood among other niceties. Her murderer escaped discovery.
Step in, Ellroy. The author of "L.A. Confidential" and "White Jazz," whose own mother was butchered, became obsessed with Short's murder and consequently penned a novel on how two cops' assigned to the case have their lives permanently unsettled. In his take, however, the Black Dahlia's killer is identified.
Sadly, Josh Friedman, whose screenplay for Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" was that mega-hit's least successful element, has here contrived a highly muddled adaptation that is nearly impossible to follow from the opening credits on. Imagine Chinatown written by a third-rate hack and you've got it.
Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) one boxed each other. Now they're partners on the police force, searching for a child molester among other deviants. When not solving crimes and shooting up criminals and a few innocents, the two moon over Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson), a stunning blonde with somebody's initials carved on her.
Then the body of Betty Short is found. During his side of the investigation, Bucky comes across Madeline Linscott, a bisexual upper-class Daddy's girl who's a doppelganger for the dead girl. In fact, Madeleine once knew Betty.
To state more, would take away your pleasure of not knowing what's going on while watching "The Black Dahlia." But don't let the long indecipherable stretches mask the film's briefly delicious episodes and components.
For example, costume designer Jenny Beavan, key hairstylist Rosica Canovska, and key makeup artist Zoltan Elek all have worked wonders capturing the glamour of the late forties. Johansson especially is always breathtaking to look at here, as are the extras in the dance numbers and the bar scenes. And just catch k.d. lang letting loose in a tux.
Then there's Swank at her most femme. As a near-crazed seductress of men in uniform and ladies in gown, she is having a blast here.
But most fun is the high priestess of British stage, Fiona Shaw, who goes over the top as Madeleine's unbalanced mom. Her dinner scene alone with all of her epileptic-like tics and scowls is the grandest of Grand Guignol
In the end, though, De Palma reaches for style over sense. If he had spent less time on achieving the right look, he might have made the right film.
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Josh Friedman
First Assistant Director: Mark Egerton
Stunt Rigger: Leon Stransky, David Listvan
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Fiona Shaw, Jemima Rooper, Claudia Katz, Mia Frye
Copyright © Brandon Judell 2006
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