LA Without A Map

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Even with a map, the place is sprawly and smoggy. It doesn't feel like a city. It feels like suburbia was sick and no-one cleaned up. And then there is Hollywood, inhabited by ponytailed phonies pitching spec scripts and pretty girls waiting table, smiling at men with beards, in the hope that one of them might be Steven Spielberg.

Barbara (Vinessa Shaw) is of that breed. She finds herself in Bradford, England, where she meets a Scottish undertaker, called Richard (David Tennant), while photographing a cemetary. He is 22, unofficially engaged to Joy (Saskia Reeves) and going down for the third time. What he needs is excitement and adventure. What he finds is trouble.

After spending a day with Barbara, he knows that she's the one. He follows her to Los Angeles, much to her surprise and amazement, and assumes the role of beau, lover, protector and husband.

Based on Richard Rayner's autobiographical novel, the film fits into the Englishman Abroad section, under Natural Disasters. Except he's a Scotsman. The plot promises more than it delivers. Once ensconced in a grotty apartment on the wrong side of town and working as a pool cleaner with new pal, Moss (Vincent Gallo), a strung-out casualty of the rock'n'roll lifestyle, Richard spends his days seething with jealousy, as Barbara networks the networkers.

Somehow the story slides into a morass of predictability. Finnish director, Mika Kaurismaki, plays around with magic realism, involving Johnny Depp, and makes no attempt to build up Gallo's character. Shaw captures the fickle emotions of a Valley girl only too well and Tennant conveys Richard's inability to suss the scene with admirable desperation. The film dies from a lack of mobility. La La land is a mirage, where, according to Moss: "you should never date a girl more than 27 minutes away on the freeway."

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A Scots undertaker falls in love with an actress and moves to LA with comic consequences.
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Director: Mika Kaurismaki

Writer: Richard Raynor, Mika Kaurismaki

Starring: David Tennant, Vinessa Shaw, Vincent Gallo, Julie Delpy, Cameron Bancroft, James Le Gros, Saskia Reeves, Malcolm Tierney, Margi Clarke, Joe Dallesandro, Johnny Depp

Year: 1998

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Finland / France / UK

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