(Air Date: Week Of 05/1/96)
"Mulholland Falls" aims for the heights of "Chinatown" and doesn't even match "The Two Jakes." A boring, low-energy parade of great clothes and draggy scenes, "Mulholland Falls" is a misfire, but a misfire with integrity.
The film takes place in the early 1950s and focuses on four nattily dressed Los Angeles cops dubbed the Hat Squad. Their mission is to keep gangsters from getting a foothold in L.A., so they don't bother with habeas corpus, due process and other niceties of the law. Now if this was your typical Hollywood movie, there'd be gunfights every five minutes. And if the producers had made an action movie like "The Untouchables" out of "Mulholland Falls," the cash registers would be ringing so loud that you'd barely be able to hear a screenwriter pounding out the sequel.
But the filmmakers took the high road instead, opting for a character study entwined with a military conspiracy. Honorable, yes, ambitious, perhaps, but entertaining? Nope.
Nick Nolte plays the gruff, tough head of the Hat Squad, a regular guy who's happily married to Melanie Griffith. When a gorgeous corpse turns up, Nolte's murder investigation gets personal in no time flat. It turns out he had a six-month affair with the beauty, played by the luscious Jennifer Connelly. It also turns out she'd been sleeping with--get this--the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, an eccentric general played by John Malkovich.
Nolte is as good as I've seen him, fidgeting with a cigarette and his hat as he tries to figure a way to solve the murder and preserve his marriage in the bargain. Connelly is simply spectacular, since her nude scenes nearly outnumber her lines of dialogue. Melanie Griffith, who works more than any other bad actress in Hollywood, actually acquits herself in her few scenes as the wronged wife. But the other actors are wasted, especially "Reservoir Dogs" Michael Madsen and Chris Penn as two of Nolte's Hat Squadders. The fourth cop, Chazz Palminteri, makes more of an impression since he's the butt of all the jokes because he's seeing a psychiatrist, a highly unusual activity in the 50s.
"Mulholland Falls" is a disappointment because it lacks any of the visceral punch that director Lee Tamahori packed into his last film, "Once Were Warriors." And it's a dud because screenwriter Pete Dexter wore out his "Chinatown" tape instead of marshalling a single original thought.
Copyright 1996 Michael Fox
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