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This week:
The Black Dahlia

Filthy says:
"What the fuck is it?"

It's September, and we'll be hard pressed to find a worse movie than the steaming pile of shit called The Black Dahlia in 2006. Maybe calling it a pile of shit is too generous because a pile of shit successfully voids your bowels. This thing's more like intestinal blockage. It's the rancid red meat they find in your guts when you die, and that the hospital repackages to sell to third world countries. It's a ballpeen hammer to your teeth. It's finding out Atomic Liquor stopped stocking Keystone because you were the only one who bought it, and you were always belligerent when you did.

The Black Dahlia is maybe the most famous unsolved murders in American History. Aspiring starlet Elizabeth Short was found dead in a vacant lot in post-war Los Angeles. Her mouth had been sliced into a sinister grin; she had been methodically cut in two and her innards removed. The case captured imaginations because of its gruesomeness, the medical precision with which it was carried out; because the killer wasn't found and a motive wasn't known; and because Short was a pretty girl from Butt-Fuck-Egypt who came to Hollywood to be discovered but died sliced up like Oscar Meyer deli meats. There have been dozens of books, and more are still being written sixty years on; there have been other Black Dahlia movies; all sorts of crazy theories still get play, and it's still unsolved.

By now, I doubt many want the case cracked. I mean, it's like the time someone crapped in the pickle jar at the Tavern. Everyone's got a theory, but do we really want a confession? Fuck no. What the hell would we talk about when things get sort of quiet and nobody's flush enough to buy beer and feed the jukebox? Besides, then someone might take it out of the jar and it'll be way less fun watching strangers ask for a pickle.

Director Brian DePalma managed to royally fuck up source material from novelist James Ellroy based on a mystery with the pizzazz of a turd in the pickle jar. The story always has been a hard-on for noir, but DePalma shoots it as overblown melodrama. He's thinking Mildred Pierce when it's Double Indemnity all the way. I get the feeling his choice has nothing to do with the story, but with his personal whims.

Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart play two hotshot vice cops nicknamed "Fire and Ice"--no, Jean Claude Van Damme is not in this movie--assigned to investigate the Dahlia murder. There's a whole hell of a lot of backstory that adds up to piddly-dick: Eckhart's mol is Scarlett Johannsen and Hartnett's sweet on her; the boys became pals by boxing each other; and Eckhart keeps giving off sidelong glances that let you know he's got some shady secret that'll be revealed later.

We're told that Eckhart is obsessed with the case. Funny, we'd never know it since at the same time he is, he basically goes offscreen for 45 minutes. During that time, Hartnett mopes around, squints like a half-blind pirate and purses his Nazi lips with grim determination. The movie meanders about as he bones Johannsen and also Hilary Swank, bizarrely miscast as a wealthy 20-something look-alike of Mia Kirshner, who plays the dead Dahlia. That Swank and Kirshner are playing look-alikes despite the stone-cold fact that they look nothing alike and don't even have the same color eyes is a great indicator of how fucking messed up this movie's priorities are.

After farting around like an old man full of Arby's, the movie plays out the resolution of the mystery in a hairball of exposition that hints at incest like Chinatown, a set appropriated from Raymond Chandler's "The Lady in the Lake " and all the elegance of the last two minutes of an episode of Perry Mason. Secondary and tertiary characters are dragged kicking and screaming back into the plot for little reason. It's supposed to make all the tedium that came before make sense. First, it doesn't. Second, even if it did, DePalma failed to engage me enough in the central mystery to care how it ends. He was too busy making pretty photos and veering off on tangents that led nowhere. That didn't stop me from laughing at the sheer improbability and hokum he summons, though.

The main problem is DePalms's so absorbed by all his tangents, swoopy camera shots and making sure we understand he thinks every woman is either a lush or a naive whore that he never explains what's so fascinating about the Black Dahlia murder. How can this case that has absorbed people for 60 years possibly come in second to a dull Hartnett? It gets buried deeper than John Holmes' dick.

Everyone, with the exception of Josh Hartnett, over-emotes and acts like Velveeta's paying them by the pound. honest to God, this movie has more bad acting and confused performances than a kindergarten Christmas play. It may be because the actors have no idea what they are supposed to be feeling or why. I know I didn't. It may also be that DePalma was shooting for a target that nobody else can see.

The Black Dahlia should be rooted in Los Angeles, showing where high society, crime and the movie business intersect. But we never get a sense of Southern California. Instead, we get the fakeness of studio lots with inauthentic facades and extras dressed like sailors prancing about like they're auditioning for South Pacific. Seriously, this thing's sets feel more like a Gene Kelly movie than a Bogart one. The lighting is artificial, and even the grime feels overly orchestrated and perfect, like the graffiti you might see in an after school special. Even the teeth Hartnett supposedly has knocked out of his mouth in a fight look like stage props.

The score is drenched in cornball swoopy trumpets and saxophones, like you hear in parodies of bad detective movies. I kept expecting Johnny Dollar, "the man with the action-packed expense account" to flip a busboy a shiny silver dollar.

DePalma sets a record here for characters smoking. Now, I don't give a flying fuck about the harm to our kids of seeing movie characters smoke because the concept behind that is if the little ones see movie stars smoke they might think it's cool. The Black Dahlia is so fucking awful that no child will ever imitate it. But, DePalma festishizes the cigarette lighting so much that you know he thnks it's cool. Good God, I hope he takes up a six-pack-a-day habit. And make it the donkey shit ones they sell at the Tijuana border.

The Black Dahlia is just fucking awful. I always thought it would be hard to make a worse movie than phony noir, yet DePalma has managed. He took a quintessential noir story and--through sheer miscalculation and self-absorption--turned it into melodrama, community theater and talky abstraction. One Fucking Finger.

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