Hurlyburly

on December 25, 1998 by Bridget Byrne
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   This slice-of-life drama has passed its sell-by date. David Rabe's play dug into a particularly unpleasant corner of a high-low-life mentality, flourishing and floundering in Hollywood, as it might any place where the struggle for power is raw and naked. On stage, the machinations of this nasty bunch of wannabes provided actors a chance to chew the scenery in ways which seemed clever and immediately exciting. On screen, a different approach is needed to obtain that visceral impact--and it hasn't been found.
   Rabe's adaptation of his play seems self-indulgent rather than searing and the performers too steeped in the exploration of their own skills. This heart rage and mind trip material doesn't benefit from the move to the screen. It's trite in style and content. The camera adds a deadening layer, even to the compelling screen presence of Sean Penn, whose performance commands our respect, but never quite grabs our guts. So as critical observers rather than emotional participants, we are left to see these cruelly self-absorbed life abusers as not worthy of sympathy and, frankly, extremely boring.
   Penn's talent still blazes forth. His depiction of Eddie, the most fully complex of Rabe's creations, is always linked to a foundation of truth and underlit by a consciousness of a morality the desperate man's behavior defies. Anna Paquin portrays the drifter girl, toyed with by these misaligned males, with an easy surety. The rest of the cast aren't so on the nose. Kevin Spacey and Garry Shandling are wry, in control, but somehow not unique. Robin Wright Penn, much like the character she plays, seems to know this is, essentially, a bad boys' tale in which women get the shakedown, and thus gives a more soft-focused, self-preservation performance than usual. Chazz Palminteri indulges in the majority of the most obvious scenery chewing, and Meg Ryan flounders in a role completely unsuited to her charms.    Starring Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright Penn, Chazz Palminteri, Garry Shandling, Anna Paquin and Meg Ryan. Directed by Anthony Drazan. Written by David Rabe. Produced by Anthony Drazan, Richard N. Gladstein and David Hamburger. Drama. A Fine Line release. Rated R for constant drug use, pervasive strong language and sexual material. Running time: 122 min.
Tags: Starring Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright Penn, Chazz Palminteri, Garry Shandling, Anna Paquin and Meg Ryan. Directed by Anthony Drazan. Written by David Rabe. Produced by Anthony Drazan, Richard N. Gladstein, David Hamburger, Drama, Fine Line
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