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OK, let's get this over with quickly:
It looks good.
It sounds great.
The costuming is fabulous (in that '50s Republican kind of style), and the cars are monsters.
The acting is good. And the story is so paper thin that you'd better all really like A through D on the above list, 'cuz without that, Mulholland Falls is a big washout.
Okay, here's the tough part. It is going to be very hard to give even the briefest of descriptions of this thing without giving the entire story away, so I'm going to fall back on cliches.
Set in 1950s Los Angeles, Mulholland Falls tells the story of a murder investigated by an elite band of LAPD detectives, nicknamed "The Hat Squad." The squad actually existed, which is not to say that this story ever happened. The squad was formed to keep organized crime out of L.A. They wore high-fashion suits, carried blackjacks instead of guns, which would have ruined the lines of the clothing, and generally behaved in just as thuggish a manner as the criminals they were to keep out of town. MF is about a murder investigation which leads to certain people in government with a lot of power; both political power and the power to make life totally miserable for Max Cooper (Nick Nolte), leader of the Squad.
The lovely lady murdered is Jennifer Connelly, last seen in The Rocketeer. Continuing to do her best Betty Page, she has been unknowingly filmed having sex with, well, whoever. One of her lovers is the powerful head of the Atomic Energy Commission (John Malkovich). One of her ex-lovers is Max. Neither want her dead, 'cuz she was great (and you know what I mean). Someone knows about the film.
As for the members of the squad, the only one we get any insight into is played by Chazz Palminteri. There's a running gag about his psychiatrist, and his desire to drive the Buick Roadmaster that the squad rumbles around in. But you don't really give a darn about the rest of the squad, and there isn't much else to make you care about.
I've written this before: what makes a mystery work is a story which leads you in many directions. The audience sits there and tries to figure it out while the cops do. Problem is, that doesn't happen here. The case leads in one direction, and the obstacles that come up are annoyances more than additional mysteries. There is no attempt to discover any other lovers who may have been filmed. The tiny little subplot involving the photographer (never a blackmailer, so that's out as a motive) is vapid.
The only touching subplot is the reaction of Nolte's wife, played by Melanie Griffith, when she sees "his" film. Griffith has very little to do in MF, and she does it very, very well. Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps this was never meant to be a classic crime "film noir" kind of movie.
But frankly, for the extra half a buck (ticket prices went up this week), I didn't know what to expect. I've seen the trailer three times and had no idea what this thing was about. I think the trailer pretty much summed up the entire film. It's about virtually nothing. It's about overzealousness, both on the part of the revealed murderer, as well as that of the members of the Hat Squad. The results being the same. The end of one murderer's career brings the end of one policeman's career. It's the kind of thing they would love in film school. It's not the kind of thing I felt I should have had to pay the extra four bits for.
As for the audience members I spoke with afterwards, the general reaction was "not as bad as I thought it would be" or "slow." When I asked if they were bothered that the story was so slim, the reaction was "no."
Sue me, I like to be intrigued by a mystery.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Mullholland Falls, he would have paid . . .
Looks good, less filling. I was terribly disappointed.
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