Auto Focus

Auto Focus


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

There is something sick at the heart of Hollywood. It's called success.

Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) was a popular radio DJ, who switched to acting and made a huge hit out of the POW camp TV comedy series, Hogan's Heroes, in the Sixties. As well as becoming a household name, he took full advantage of fame's pulling power.

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Paul Schrader, who wrote the screenplay for Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation Of Christ, would normally not involve himself with something so bland as a showbiz dirt dig. The film's attempt at softcore titillation fails; it's like a tacky home movie, masquerading as social comment.

Crane leads a conventional Fifties suburban Los Angeles lifestyle, with pretty wife (Rita Wilson) who cleans and cooks and two children who want to play with daddy but can't because daddy's never home. His hobby is photography, which gives him access to pictures of naked women in "artistic poses." He collects these and hides them in his den.

Then he meets John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), who works for Sony, flogging their latest toy, the video camera. Carp, as Crane calls him, is not the guy who made Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween, but a dedicated swinger ("A day without sex is a day wasted"), who encourages Crane to indulge his carnal desires, while filming them with the new equipment. Of course, Crane's life falls apart, work dries up and he becomes addicted to sex.

As a rise-and-fall Hollywood biopic, Auto Focus is par for the course. The fact that Crane's drug of choice is girls rather than booze makes no difference. Schrader's natural leanings towards misogyny are well served. His claim that this is a comedy is difficult to justify when it looks more like the tragic tale of a second rate talent.

Kinnear has played lightweight charmers for years. The only time that he seemed stretched was as Jack Nicholson's gay neighbour in As Good As It Gets. Crane is a darker character than his trademark sunny-side-up, it's true, but not a million miles from the nice guy in the funny hat. Dafoe is an intense actor, who can dominate a film (Shadow Of The Vampire) with the power of a performance, even in cameo roles (Wild At Heart), and yet seems diminished here, assuming the persona of a man who wears his shirt open and collar over his lapels.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2003
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Biopic of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane.
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Director: Paul Schrader

Writer: Michael Gerbosi

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson, Maria Bello, Ron Leibman, Bruce Solomon, Michael E Rodgers, Kurt Fuller

Year: 2002

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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