Culture

film review: Auto Focus **

“I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. Two out of three ain’t bad,” Bob Crane says of his addiction to sex. It looks pretty bad in Auto Focus. Crane plays the lead role in the hit 60s sitcom, Hogan’s Heroes. Auto Focus is the true story of his life, which goes way beyond a normal movie star tale.

Crane, played by Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets), gained popularity for his role as Colonel Hogan in the late 60s and early 70s. But along with popularity came the predictable chances for sex, drugs and rock and roll. At least he turned down the last two.

Commencing the movie as a normal guy with a nice job as a radio DJ, Crane spends time with his wife and kids, he is portrayed as a decent person, though he has a strange obsession with photography, especially that of a pornographic nature. Moreover, he seems confused when his wife doesn’t understand his need to have porn magazines in the house.

His downward spiral begins when he gets the spot on the sitcom and fame rushes in. He meets a tech-savvy hipster, John Carpenter (no relation to the horror movie pioneer), who drags him into the world of sin that fills most of the film. Crane’s transition from family man to sex addict happens abruptly and with hardly any explanation, one of the film’s many flaws.

Crane and Carpenter, played by Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire), spend years picking up women nightly, abusing Crane’s celebrity image. At home, the latter goes through two wives and several kids, and after his show goes off the air, he can’t get work anymore. Surrounded by scandals, Crane finally gets a role in the Disney flop Superdad, an ironic title for a man who hardly knew his kids. He and Carpenter fight frequently, but both are pursuing the same thing – an endless string of meaningless sex.

Using Carpenter’s video knowledge, the duo is able to record their sexual exploits, although there’s no real reason to. Maybe it was Crane’s need to be on camera after his real acting life came to a halt.
The story ends when Crane is murdered in his bed one night, an event that the film pins on Carpenter, although he was acquitted in real life.

Crane’s life is surely very interesting. It’s the kind of story that just begs to be made into a movie-a popular actor who trudges through endless scandals only to be murdered by his best friend. But the execution is poorly conceived, and the screenplay is hardly intriguing.

Kinnear is as decent as Crane, but his acting, like the character he plays, seems shallow. Crane should have been like A Beautiful Mind’s John Nash, who was given depth and personality by Russell Crowe. Instead, Kinnear comes off as plain and ordinary. Dafoe, on the other hand, fares much better as Carpenter, and he’s as spooky as ever in the sidekick role. His performance is Oscar-worthy, and helps to raise the intensity of the scenes he’s in.

Overall, Auto Focus is a botched attempt at putting a fascinating story on film. Crane’s life was a superficial cesspool of sex and lust, but there had to be something deeper. If there wasn’t, then the movie should explain why. Instead, it focuses too much on Crane’s sex addiction and not enough on why he’s addicted. Dafoe’s performance is terrific, but the script and the direction are less than perfect. And in this case, two out of three is bad.

Shawn Wines can be reached at shawnwines@aol.com.

November 8, 2002

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