Where's Marlowe?

Fattened from a TV pilot to a full feature on the strength of inexplicable industry "buzz," Where's Marlowe? desperately shoehorns the glorious tradition of Raymond Chandler-inspired gumshoes into the not-so-glorious tradition of the mockumentary. Though Chandler's wry detective fiction proved versatile enough to withstand the wicked parody of Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, his Byzantine plotting is the only element to survive co-writer and director Daniel Pyne's feeble, pointlessly self-referential indie treatment. But the film's most egregious offense is wasting first-rate character actor Miguel Ferrer in a rare leading role. Memorably tactless as a corporate climber in Robocop and a short-fused FBI agent in Twin Peaks, Ferrer has the perpetually sour face of the best screen private eyes, but Pyne sets him up as a buffoon from the start, playing against his comic strengths. As his character struggles to pay rent and complete his few assignments, young documentarians John Livingston and Mos Def follow him around with cameras and sound equipment. (Never mind, of course, that discretion is the key reason why anyone would come to a P.I. in the first place.) Coming off an unsuccessful three-hour study of Manhattan's drinking-water supply, the two become subjects in their own documentary as they catch Ferrer's partner (John Slattery) with a client's philandering wife. At the very least, a good mockumentary—and there have been few outside of This Is Spinal Tap and Bob Roberts—has to maintain a poker-faced verisimilitude in order for the satire to take residence. Where's Marlowe? is poisoned by self-awareness, snickering at an endless series of gags that aren't worth 10 seconds of Ferrer's stoic visage.

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