Hurlyburly

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Hurlyburly

Like Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, a film it often resembles in ambition, content, and sheer tediousness, Hurlyburly is an adaptation of a work—in this case, a David Rabe play produced during, and very much about, the Reagan '80s—that was distinctly of its time. But whereas Fear And Loathing was set in a sort of dystopian post-'60s wasteland, Anthony Drazan's adaptation of Hurlyburly seems to take place in a cultural and historical vacuum. Part of the reason it's such a tedious, if sometimes fascinating, mess is that its real location seems to be the post-Mamet American theater. Hurlyburly is fundamentally stagey, and despite Drazan's generally effective direction, it seems to have lost much of its potency during its transition from stage to screen. The film tells the story of a group of Hollywood players who hide their simmering existential rage behind an endless parade of polysyllabic metaphysical theater-speak. Like latter-day Holden Caulfields, the men of Hurlyburly have everything they want and nothing they need; the film's protagonist, a movie executive and walking time bomb played by a squirrelly Sean Penn, buries himself in cocaine and self-destructive relationships when all he really seems to need is someone to hold his hand and tell him everything will be okay. Penn's partner in self-destruction is a two-bit character actor played by Chazz Palminteri, a small-time hustler with a mean streak and a penchant for abusing women. Penn and Palminteri give credible, intense performances, as do most of the generally excellent cast, which includes Kevin Spacey, Garry Shandling, and an effectively cast-against-type Meg Ryan. But because everyone in the film is shallow and repellent, it's difficult to care about what happens to them. Like most films about drug addicts, no matter how ambitious or pretentious, Hurlyburly eventually devolves into a long series of scenes involving drug-addled assholes screaming at one another. That might have made for intense, in-your-face theater, but onscreen, Hurlyburly offers precious little transcendence in return for all the druggy, interminable irritation.