Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Feeling Groovy

By Susan Ellis

NOVEMBER 3, 1997:  Boogie Nights, written, produced, and directed by 27-year-old Paul Thomas Anderson, is an entertaining, light movie -- a sort of noisy and vivid cinematic flashback.

The hook to Boogie Nights is its setting, that of the late-'70s, early-'80s L.A. porn industry. It stars Mark Wahlberg as Eddie Adams, a 17-year-old nightclub busboy and part-time hustler. While at work one evening, Eddie is discovered by Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), a pornographer who spots Eddie's considerable below-the-belt talent. Horner draws Eddie in not so much with promises of fame and fortune, but by showing him the family-like security he's built among his cast and crew, chief among them Horner's starlet Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), the mother figure whose lifestyle keeps her from raising her own son. Rounding out the family are Rollergirl (Heather Graham), the high-school dropout whose signature is never taking off her skates, Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), actor and hi-fi enthusiast, Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), another actor and Eddie's magic-loving best friend, and Little Bill (William Macy), production assistant and cuckold.

After changing his name to Dirk Diggler, Eddie proves to be a natural and soon basks in the glow provided by industry recognition, fancy clothes, a new house, and an orange Corvette. As the decade closes, however, things change. Disco crashes, making way for the likes of Rick Springfield and Night Ranger. One star gets married, another opens his own business. Horner turns to videotape, and Dirk turns to drugs. And while Dirk's situation goes from bad to worse, he's still got the one thing that made him a star.

For Boogie Nights, Anderson keenly hits on two things that spark interest: '70s nostalgia and the naughtiness of porn. As for the former, Anderson works in the knit clothes, the awful hair, and the music (the Commodores' "Machine Gun," Andrew Gold's "Lonely Boy," War's "Spill the Wine," and the Silver's "Fly, Robin Fly" are among the many songs). As for the latter, Anderson wisely reins in the lasciviousness and focuses mainly on the goofiness of porn-movie plot lines. In fact, while he does include the down-and-out struggles of his characters, Anderson never lets anything get too nasty (save for the grand finale money shot, which reveals what the fuss is all about).

What really makes Boogie Nights is Anderson's gift for developing characters that the audience cares about. Dirk is a bit stupid but amiable, and Wahlberg does an excellent job portraying him. Moore's Amber is somewhat more complicated. She yearns to be a mother, so she figuratively adopts the younger stars while introducing them to drugs, and, in Dirk's case, has sex with him. Finally, there's Jack Horner, played with finesse by Reynolds, who rules over his clan with a velvet glove and who honestly strives to make a quality product. Everyone in this makeshift family is so respectful of each other, you might consider Boogie Nights a very dirty Brady Bunch.

A Life Less Ordinary

A Life Less Ordinary seems like a strange, perhaps daring, followup by the makers of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.

It stars Ewan McGregor as Robert, an aspiring writer who's just been fired from his job as a janitor at a big corporation. To add insult to injury, his girlfriend dumps him and he gets evicted from his apartment. But Robert's ills, it turns out, are part of a bigger scheme. So big, in fact, that it's been sent from above in the form of two angels Jackson (Delroy Lindo) and O'Reilly (Holly Hunter), who've been ordered to have Robert and Celine (Cameron Diaz), the spoiled daughter of his ex-boss, fall in love.

Director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald, and writer John Hodge have decided to take on the screwball comedy. If one thing can be said about A Life Less Ordinary, it certainly is screwy. The sheer quirkiness factor crashes through the roof, making the picture oddly likable but not altogether successful.

The angels have Robert and Celine's paths cross at her father's office. As Celine is being chided by her father and threatened with the prospect of getting a job, Robert breaks in and demands his job back. One thing leads to another and Robert winds up with a gun to Celine's head and dragging her out to a secluded cabin. Celine, who's been kidnapped before, tutors her all-thumbs captor on the fine points of the game -- how to write a ransom note in her own blood, what tone to take when making threatening calls, etc. Meanwhile, Jackson and O'Reilly have been hired by Celine's father to get his daughter back and kill Robert.

Diaz gives what may be considered her best performance yet. She handles some tricky dialogue well and shows a good ear for timing. For his part, McGregor is dumb-lug-ishly charming. As the angels, Delroy is good as the straight man, but Hunter is really stretching it as the multi-voiced romantic. So mix these characters together, add a little bit of violence, take away the filmmakers' patented manic, music-video style, and throw in a fantasy dance sequence, karaoke, and an off-kilter mountain man, and you've got something that never quite clicks. Though Boyle et al should get some credit for giving it a shot, with A Life Less Ordinary's heavenly bent and too-cute ending, it's just too much to ask.

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