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.