The City of Absurdity   INLAND EMPIRE


Inland Empire

By Ray Bennett, The Hollywood Reporter, September 8, 2006

Bottom line: Long and incomprehensible.

VENICE, Italy -- It's a shame David Lynch is such an artist. If he were more of a journeyman filmmaker he might have made a pretty good picture about the blurring of life, real and imagined, with motion pictures, but instead he's come up with an interminable bore titled "Inland Empire."

"I don't understand what I'm doing here," says Laura Dern somewhere in the middle of the film, and she's not the only one. Filled with dreary sequences in poor lighting, incongruous scenes featuring characters who are never explained, with occasional startling images, the films lasts almost three hours and seems longer. Boxoffice prospects appear limited to Lynch devotees and the contentedly bewildered.

The annoying thing is that it starts quite well. Dern and Justin Theroux are starring in a movie being made by a director played by Jeremy Irons, who surprises them by saying the film is a remake. The first one was never finished, he says, because the leading actors were murdered.

It's all nice and spooky at this point, with a foreign-sounding woman having earlier warned the actress about time shifting and how evil actions have consequences. Then the actress's husband cautions the actor that he'd better not try anything with his wife.

As they begin rehearsals in a studio soundstage, there's an intruder behind the flats at the back and the actor goes to look in the dark. The director has a shrewd-looking assistant named Freddie, played coolly by Harry Dean Stanton, who is always borrowing money from everyone.

Soon the actors in the film within the film are confusing themselves with the roles they're playing, and Lynch's film looks set to become a dense and intriguing psychological mystery about the inland empire of dreams and fantasies fed by the movies.

It all goes terribly wrong. Perhaps the sitcom sequence with people wearing rabbit heads is the first clue. A young woman is watching them on television and there's a laugh track although she's crying. Then a woman (Julia Ormand) is talking to what appears to be a policeman about having been hypnotized by a man in a bar and how she's going to murder someone with a screwdriver.

Later, there's a roomful of wholesome and pretty young women whose chatter seems to be about boyfriends until one bares what is apparently a new set of breasts and soon they're all out on Hollywood Boulevard doing business. There are sequences in what sounds like Polish involving people who might be the characters from the original doomed film.

The actress weaves in and out of all these seemingly unconnected sequences and she's either herself or in the character from the movie she's supposed to be making or someone else entirely, it's hard to say.

Irons and Stanton are barely seen again. Dern works hard and gets to speak direct to camera in the voice of a mistreated woman who has learned to be tough with men, but who she is by this time is anyone's guess.

There are conventional thriller episodes with sudden cuts and shrieks, sinister voices and skewed camera angles, but composer Angelo Badalamenti's music does all the heavy lifting. If it weren't for the extraordinary range and texture of his underscore, much of this film would sink without trace.

Inland Empire
Studio Canal
Writer, director & editor: David Lynch
Producers: Jeremy Alter, Mary Sweeney
Cinematographer: Odd-Geir Saeher
Composer: Angelo Badalamenti

Cast: Nikki/Susan: Laura Dern
Kingsley: Jeremy Irons
Freddie: Harry Dean Stanton
Devon: Justin Theroux
Jack: Scott Coffey
Henry: Ian Abercrombie

Also: Julia Ormond, Michael Pare, Mihhaila Aaseng.
No MPAA rating; running time 172 mins.

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© Mike Hartmann