Auggie Rose

In the cinematic subgenre devoted to middle-class men achieving redemption through unconventional means, it's become common for characters' outward nattiness to bear an inverse relationship to their moral fortitude and spiritual well-being. Consequently, when Jeff Goldblum enters Auggie Rose sporting an expensive suit, a flashy haircut, and impeccable loafers, it's apparent that he's either a bad man or a good-but-flawed one in need of redemption. Initially released to video and cable under the almost comically generic title Beyond Suspicion, Auggie Rose casts Goldblum as a hotshot insurance salesman with a pleasant girlfriend and a nice home whose seemingly charmed life is thrown into disarray when he witnesses a liquor-store robbery that results in the death of a recently hired ex-con clerk. Haunted by the shooting and unable to resume his old life, Goldblum becomes obsessed with uncovering details about the slain clerk, eventually adopting his identity and taking up with his impossibly perfect pen-pal girlfriend (Anne Heche). A puzzling mixture of Fearless, The Adjuster, and the similarly portentous Angel Eyes, Auggie Rose maintains an air of mystery throughout its first hour by deliberately obscuring Goldblum's motivations. Is his journey into the dead man's life inspired by morbid curiosity, liberal guilt, humanitarian compassion, or something darker? Writer-director Matthew Tabak avoids showing his hand until late in the movie, by which point Auggie Rose seems equally open to interpretation as a twisty neo-noir, a grief-soaked metaphysical thriller à la The Sixth Sense, and a midlife-crisis-spurred redemption drama. The late-film appearance of unsavory, troublemaking Timothy Olyphant would seem to push it squarely into noir territory, but Tabak's film is both more and less ambitious than it appears. Auggie Rose raises plenty of interesting questions, but the answers it reaches are invariably anticlimactic, with more similarities to Regarding Henry's better-living-through-trauma humanism than to The Sixth Sense's creepy metaphysics. (Goldblum is similarly problematic. Convincing as a genial insurance salesman, he doesn't fare anywhere near as well as a genial-yet-hardened ex-con, in part because his sole concession to his world-weary-crook persona involves dousing his hair in grease and wearing drab T-shirts.) Even so, the film remains relatively involving until it ultimately undoes itself by promising more than it can deliver.

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