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Case Number 00154

Buy Hurlyburly at Amazon


New Line // 1998 // 123 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dean Roddey (Retired) // October 21st, 1999

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All Rise...

The Charge

If you didn't already think that men are scum…

Opening Statement This another film which, despite making my half of the species look like drooling idiots and woman abusing psychopaths, addresses an uncomfortable situation with such intelligence and brutal honesty that I loved it. The acting is great, the audio and video are top notch, the story line is very interesting, and the characters are well developed (in the acting sense I mean, in the human sense they are extremely stunted.)

The Evidence

There is no real plot to this film as such. Instead it just deals with the everyday lives of four men living a life of smoke and coke and sex in the Hollywood hills and being destroyed by it. They are basically coming uncorked and getting dangerous to themselves and the people around them. They've spent a little too much time with no substance in their lives and a few too many substances in their noses basically.

The film is based on a previously staged play, and some of the actors in the movie were in the play as well so they've had pretty much the ultimate prep. I think that the interplay of the characters and the high speed, voluminous dialogue is very much the better for it. This film is definitely a talky, and the dialogue is extensive, convoluted, cocaine enhanced, and simultaneously deep and shallow. They know that they are basically scum, and their attempts to deal with it keep drifting to the surface only to be chased away with another snort or hit.

Sean Penn (Thin Red Line, Casualties Of War, At Close Range) plays the central character of the story named Eddie, and his character is the most introspective and is trying the hardest to find some resolution to the weirdness he lives in. He lives with and co-owns a Hollywood casting agency with Mikey, played by Kevin Spacey (LA Confidential, Swimming with Sharks, The Usual Suspects.) These two are obviously doing some very in-depth examination of lots of their talent when they aren't partying hardy. The two other characters are Artie, played by Gary Shandling, and Phil, played by Chazz Palmenteri (The Usual Suspects, A Bronx Tale, Diabolique), both of whom also contribute successfully to the downward spiral of the group.

Despite the above description, the story is not without redeeming qualities by any means. The whole film is basically the lead up to at least the intimation of some breakthrough to clarity, though it does not fall prey to the Hollywood need for a 'happy ending'. The ending is just as clouded as the minds of the participants. And its obvious that the characters involved know that they are going downhill fast, so its not an Animal House type mindless partyfest. They just can't seem to find any better compass to steer by, or find anything more meaningful to grab onto.

Robin Wright Penn (Toys, Forrest Gump, Moll Flanders), yes she married Sean, plays the love interest of the movie, Darlene, in a strange sort of triangle between the two primary characters. She plays perfectly the oh so common birdlike, flittering coke head chick, who has good intentions but who just cannot slow her brain down enough to get her ducks in a row. Meg Ryan appears in a role very different from what you are used to seeing her in. She's a balloon twisting stripper friend who drops by and kicks off the penultimate disaster of the movie, thus forcing a little self-examination on the characters.

The video quality of this film is outstanding, at least on my system. It is super crisp, with great color. And, though its a pure talky, the 5.1 audio track is of high quality. It also has two great audio commentaries. One has the screenwriter and director, and the other has Sean Penn, the screen writer, the composer, and a social commentator. Both are well worth listening to.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

There isn't much to dislike about this film. I guess the commentary tracks are not the best and most focused ones I've heard, but that's a pretty wimpy complaint. Some folks will find the story line itself repulsive if they just take it on face value as a story about a group of pathetic, abusive men.

The dialogue is very, very complex, and in a couple of places it was so much so that it became a little bit unbelievable. Partly this was just due to the difficulty in delivering it in a natural way, and partly just because it was slightly more florid than you would believe these folks would use.

Other than these minor whines, I can't say much bad about it.

Closing Statement

So, once again men are scum and now we can pay to see it in high fidelity in the comfort of our own homes! But seriously, this film is an indictment of what it portrays, not a celebration. I would very much recommend it to anyone who likes intelligent dialogue and material that holds your face to the flame of the human condition. Personally, I think that many women would appreciate it as well though they might not appreciate some of the guy humor in places, and it does have an undercurrent of subtle and dark humor throughout. Even so, its certainly not light viewing, so save it for when you are in the mood for this kind of thing.

The Verdict

This one is assuredly acquitted. If you like this kind of fare, you cannot go wrong. It looks great, it sounds great, the story is great, and the delivery of that story is exceptional.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 95
Audio: 90
Extras: 95
Acting: 98
Story: 95
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile

Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Two Audio Commentary Tracks with Sean Penn, Anthony Drazan, David Rabe and more
• Cast And Crew Biographies
• Cast And Crew Filmographies


• IMDb

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