Kevin Spacey is such an intriguing actor he can make depression fun, even as a dreary mope who sees gloomy clouds in the warm California sunshine. Here he's a finalist in the cliché character sweepstakes as a depressed therapist, along with the burned-out cop and the morbid hit man. But Spacey finds a way to keep you watching long after the film has given you any reason to.
Henry Carter is a shrink to the stars and famous himself as the author of inspirational tomes, an irony since he can barely muster up enough will to get off the couch. About the only thing that interests him anymore is "self-medication"; he goes through more weed than Willie Nelson's tour bus, and his freckle-faced dealer obliges him with exotic varieties of cannabis with lovely names ("pussyfinger," "Christmas in Vietnam," etc.). That dealer is one of the most stable relationships left in Henry's life — most of his time and mental energy get consumed by a roster of neurotic, archetypal power players. Among them is Robin Williams as a fading stud a la Jack Nicholson, dealing with sex addiction, and his co-star, a drugged-out Irish actor bad boy (Jack Huston in shades of Colin Farrell), and a high-strung, paranoid germophobe agent in perpetual crisis (Dallas Roberts). If that's not enough to deal with, Henry has an aging starlet (Saffron Burrows) with a cheating rocker husband, a distant relative wannabe screenwriter and a bright-but-troubled girl he's coerced into taking on as a pro bono charity case. In this world, success is cancer, and the only characters with any hope are those who haven't tasted it yet.
As in other overwrought think pieces (such as Crash), these characters orbit ever closer to each other, entangle and collide, as gentle guitar strokes underscore their self-importance. For a major metropolis, Los Angeles is pretty small here; Spacey and Burrows can't stroll nearby mountains or browse the brie at Whole Foods without bumping into each other, and the rest of the plot depends wholly on random coincidences.
Still, the actors never break faith, even as the script falters, with standout work from the hilariously snarky Roberts and the young Palmer, who's strong even when in full-on sulky teen mode. Spacey makes every line-reading a master's class, though this kind of world-weary role's too easy for him now. The trouble is that fresh-faced writer Thomas Moffett's script is often brilliantly funny but unfocused; he infuriatingly wants it both ways: Everyone is so miserable working in the besotted industry, yet their happiness hinges on the redemptive power of artistically pure, no-bullshit filmmaking. Imagine a script wherein Tinseltown is a hell filled with soulless people able only to find bliss by bucking the system, and then consider that someone took the time to write it in hopes of selling it to a studio.
Opens Friday, Aug. 14, at the Landmark Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.