Normally, costumes and sets are created in service of a film. In the case of Roman Coppola’s obnoxious vanity project A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III, however, a film was created for the sake of dynamite costumes and sets, including such eye-catching oddities as a couch that looks exactly like a nicely dressed hot dog, or a car with a painting of bacon on one side and eggs on the other. Charles Swann III exists largely, if not exclusively, for the sake of meticulously chosen production details that suggest a pop-art pop-up book come to life, but the film serves another crucial function as well: massaging the massive ego of star Charlie Sheen, making a decidedly less-than-triumphant return to film after a decade lost to television and highly public insanity. Charles Swann III presumes the audience loves its lead actor at such a level that the assumption would seem strident even if the actor were a genuinely beloved figure like Tom Hanks. The film strangely takes it for granted that everyone adores Charlie Sheen, and is willing to extend affection to the unmistakably Charlie Sheen-like character he plays here. And that’s only the first and most devastating of the film’s countless miscalculations.
The comeback-hungry Sheen coasts through a defiantly glib performance as a superstar designer in 1970s Los Angeles. His glamorous life of drugs, booze, money, fame, and mind-blowing sex with an endless assortment of gorgeous, eager women runs into trouble when the love of his life leaves him. This sends him into an emotional tailspin that causes him to reexamine his life and his rapacious appetites, with the help of best friend Jason Schwartzman (an entertainer with a Lenny Bruce Afro) and manager Bill Murray.
Schwartzman and Murray aren’t the only elements of the film that recall the cinema of Wes Anderson, with whom Coppola has collaborated extensively, most recently and impressively on the Oscar-nominated screenplay to Moonrise Kingdom. Coppola apparently loves his collaborator’s aesthetic so much that he’s borrowed it wholesale. The film looks and feels unmistakably like a Wes Anderson movie, but with the wit, heart, humor, and characterization removed, leaving preciousness, twee self-satisfaction, and a fetishistic obsession with production design. Charles Swann III offers the glossily empty experience of a group of costumed, overgrown children frolicking mindlessly through beautiful spaces. It isn’t a movie so much as a feature-length perfume commercial for a Charlie Sheen signature cologne with gorgeous packaging and absolutely nothing inside.