Once you’re typecast as Superman, there isn’t much you can do, especially if you’ve got more looks than talent. That was the situation in which George Reeves found himself in 1959. That was the year he died, presumably by killing himself. He was said to be in despair over his inability to get non-superhero roles.

Hollywoodland tells Reeves’s story through flashbacks and a frame story about a detective trying to prove that Superman was murdered. Ben Affleck plays Reeves and is well within his range as an affable but ambitious pretty boy who can’t be satisfied with adulation of millions of kids. Diane Lane plays Toni Mannix, a studio mogul’s wife who keeps Reeves. She’s sexy and vulnerable, and you have to wonder why she isn’t a bigger star. Adrian Brody turns in another memorable performance as the cynical private eye, Louis Simo, who also has ambitions that outstrip his talent.

Unfortunately, the script betrays all of this. Hollywoodland goes nowhere except the place where loose ends and unraveled plot threads go to die. Reeves may be likeable but since you know what happens to him, and you can see his talent for self destruction, you don’t really care. And Simo’s the same way except for the likeable part. Obviously, the parallels between them are emphasized and Simo supposedly learns from Reeves’s mistakes. Yet the narrative isn’t focused enough to make this point clearly.

For example there’s a scene where Simo has given up. His client (Reeves’s mother) has been bought off, and he’s been beaten up twice by goons from his former employer, a security firm that studio hired to clean up the mess. One of the cops working the case gives Simo the police file and hints that there’s more going on here than is apparent. That’s a familiar scene in these types of movies. The hero comes back and solves the case. Well, in Hollywoodland, Simo winds up giving up again anyway. So why is that scene there? Because the filmakers didn’t realize how it detracted from the story, setting up false promises.

At best Hollywoodland needed a close re-edit, at worst, a new script.



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September 2006
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