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by Natasha Theobald

"Clever and Convoluted"
4 stars

Apparently, at one time, this was meant to be a series for ABC. It's too bad they couldn't see the unique treasure they had before them. Luckily, all was not lost when the pilot was made into a feature film. It is clever and convoluted and well worth a look.

Two documentary filmmakers endeavor to follow up their last effort, a three hour documentary on the water in New York, with a documentary about the life and work of Joe Boone, a private detective in Los Angeles. Joe has a partner who wants nothing to do with the film and bills with no money to pay them. He is waiting for a big case, but he bides his time with insurance fraud, cheating spouses, and dog poop disputes. What he and the filmmakers don't know is that they are about to become a part of their own story. Lines are crossed, and documenting reality takes on a whole new meaning.

The set-up is just a small part of the fun to be had. The mockumentary format sheds a new light on the lore of the private detective in the big city, and the film is aware of its predecessors and of itself. The camera becomes a character, as all who encounter it are hyper-aware of its presence, raising the question of what can truly be real through such a lens. The movie is equally aware of being a movie, and references are made which will delight true lovers of movies in general. Basically, the audience is receiving a knowing wink on a variety of levels. We are in on the in. We see the mirror image in the mirror image in the mirror. You get the point.

The script by John Makiewecz and Daniel Pyne is funny in the best possible way. They aren't stretching or reaching for gag upon gag. The characters are witty and wry and layered and real. The movie itself is funny, because the people who inhabit the world of the movie are funny. And, life itself can be amusing if you look at it with the right eyes. The characters face the same silliness and eye-rolling exasperation that any of us face when we choose to leave the house in the morning.

The performances are fresh and winning. The actors embody the characters the script has given them with a seemingly effortless precision. The highest compliment to pay with such a film, I suppose, is that none of them seem to be acting. The star, of course, Miguel Ferrer, sets the tone, and it is a joy and a pleasure to watch him, to watch Joe Boone. John Livingston and Mos Def are the documentarians who must decide how far is too far to go in affecting the subjects they film. You will see in them the type of frustrated filmmakers that populate many major cities and college towns. John Slattery is Joe Boone's partner and best friend. In not wanting to be part of the documentary, he is not much part of the film, but the moments when he is present are enough to let him live beyond them. Allison Dean is Angela, the long-suffering secretary, who gives an intelligent, sassy, and practical perspective.

The mystery to be solved is much less important that the people trying to solve it. If you are looking for a whodunnit, this will probably seem a bit anti-climactic to you. But, if you glory in watching interesting characters making choices and suffering the consequences, watching life itself on the screen, this movie is a remarkable diversion. However, if you think the moments in time between plot points are pointless, steer clear. The behind-the-scenes sort of downtime may seem long or a tad boring to those not willing to go with this different sort of flow.

Wit that sneaks up on you and laughs that take you by surprise, this movie is great for anyone looking for something a little different to enliven a Saturday afternoon.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2776&reviewer=317
originally posted: 09/15/02 22:06:39
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  12-Nov-1999 (PG)



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