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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Out of Focus
by Betty Jo Tucker

Morality takes a beating in Auto Focus, a movie more suitable for stag parties than for multiplexes. Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe play the late TV star Bob Crane of "Hoganís Heroes" and his hedonistic buddy John Carpenter, two men joined at the hip as they descend into debauchery. To me, one of the great mysteries of the movie world involves why filmmakers decide on certain projects. Auto Focus emerges as the latest case in point.

Still, the performances here deserve praise. Kinnear (As Good as It Gets) projects all the glibness and fake friendliness I remember about Crane during his glory days on "Hoganís Heroes." And he looks remarkably like Crane, especially in scenes showing segments of this popular television program. In the role of video technician Carpenter, Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire) oozes raunchiness as only he can. Even his most civilized smile hints of forbidden pleasures to come. Kinnear and Dafoe made me believe the men they portrayed were partners in a symbiotic relationship, each one needing the other to satisfy his addictions. After Crane hooks the women with his fame and charm, Carpenter provides the expertise to document their orgies. Believe me, itís not a pretty sight.

Meanwhile, Crane's obsessive behavior destroys his two marriages. Rita Wilson (Runaway Bride) plays the ultra- proper first wife, a woman shocked by something as mild as her husband's collection of Playboy magazines. Maria Bello (Coyote Ugly), practically unrecognizable as wife number two, tells Crane his diversions won't matter when they wed -- but her indifference soon turns to rage. These are throwaway roles for two fine actresses who deserve better.  

On the other hand, symbolic filming techniques in Auto Focus evoked my admiration. Director Paul Schrader (Affliction) uses clear, bright colors in the first part of the movie, then darker and fuzzier shots as Craneís sexual addiction takes over his life. Very impressive. Nevertheless, I believe the filmís subject matter and graphic scenes of adultery, satyriasis, and murder, overwhelm its professional treatment.

Itís only fair to admit that biopics almost always bother me, especially ones in which friends and relatives of the person depicted are still living. What must Craneís family think about Auto Focus? But I understand one of his sons took a small part in this movie, so perhaps Iím being too sensitive.

My husband and I saw Auto Focus at midnight during the Telluride Film Festival. Why did we attend such a late showing? Simply because if I viewed the filmís first screening at the festival, I would be able to interview Kinnear, Dafoe, and Schrader sometime that weekend. However, after sitting through a movie with so much objectionable material, I wanted to avoid anyone associated with it. Now, I regret that decision.

If the interviews had taken place, I might have learned what motivated such talented artists to spend their precious time on an exploitative movie like Auto Focus. But for now, that mystery, like Crane's murder, remains unsolved.

(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated "R" for strong sexuality, nudity, language, some drug use, and violence.)

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