The kernel of the piece is that Werner Herzog, a director of German extraction with a taste for the singular, if not bizarre (Fitzcarraldo), is living in L.A. and planning a documentary about a search for the Loch Ness monster that will be co-produced by Zak Penn, a writer (Suspect Zero) debuting on this project as director. But Herzog plays the fictional part of the film's director. Okay, so we have a film about a film being made. Herzog brings his favorite cameraman, Gabriel Beristain (S.W.A.T., Blade II) into the creative mix as he and Penn plan the venture.
The presumed scripted version that Herzog is directing is, however, The Enigma at Loch Ness and, as though two films weren't enough, cinematographer John Bailey (The Kid Stays In the Picture) records the behind-the-scenes proceedings documentary style for another film, Herzog in Wonderland. This accounts for most of the footage that we're seeing, beginning with a longwinded, pre-launch gathering of forces at Herzog's house for dinner. Jeff Goldblum, apparently another member of the Herzog inner circle, shows up for the meal and a quick close up.
The suggestion here is that this is all taking place in real time, except that it's completely rigged, with all these before and behind the camera participants as the main characters. Yes, Beristain is filming it once we get out on the Loch and, yes, his footage is intercut with Bailey's, and so are Rashomon-styled talking heads giving their side of the conflicting events.
The trouble starts when Penn attempts to provide his own footage by ordering Beristain to film without Herzog, the nominal director, becoming aware of what they're doing. When Herzog sees what's going on, he explodes! Penn is embarrassed and apologetic for deceiving his friend and collaborator, but is this all just an act? Oh, these convoluted inside realities, cross purposes and industry egos!
Added to the crew-cast are a supposed doctor-crypto-zoologist who also has a private agenda regarding the legendary monster, Nessie. And, presumably in response to someone saying, "Hey, we need a chick!," a beauteous sonar operator, Kitana Baker, becomes a skimpily clad but integral part of the boat crew. If you have to have sonar to spot the underwater creature, the operator of it might as well be an attention-getting babe. In so gratuitous a role, the lady adds sexuality and spunk and acquits herself well.
There is a water-borne model of a sea dragon which, in tandem with spooky music, raises the dramatic level a notch or two with a clever illusion. But mostly it's a pseudo-real mockumentary spawned by The Blair Witch Project and sprung on an unsuspecting audience contemporaneously with a like-minded September Tapes.
Not that the mixing together of purported film projects doesn't produce some fun aspects. In what I found a charming surprise, Herzog's personality is wryly amusing -- a guy who can convey the dimensionality of perturbed emotions along with personal stress. Okay, he's no Bill Murray, but he shows unexpected talent for wily humor mixed in with a feisty intelligence and a formidable film history. It's mostly interest in him and how he handles the threatening developments, the betrayals and disappointments that holds our attention and makes us want to hang on to see how the movies within the movie will all come out. Or, was I just deceived into thinking so?
One could argue that deception is its main purpose, but it's too much of a one-note concept to make the entertainment value lift much above lake level. Perhaps the biggest laugh is the one about these guys thinking they can get away with the bogus nature of their trip.
Penn and Herzog (among others) continue the charade on the DVD with an in-character commentary track. Deleted scenes and additional footage are also included.
Run time: 94 mins
In Theaters: Friday 17th September 2004
Distributed by: Eden Rock Media
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 62%
Fresh: 29 Rotten: 18
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Zak Penn
Screenwriter: Werner Herzog
Starring: Werner Herzog as Himself, Kitana Baker as Heerself, Gabriel Beistain as Himself, Russell Williams II as Himself, David A. Davidson as Himself, Michael Karnow as Himself, Robert O'Meara as Himself, Zak Penn as Himself, Steve Gardner as Himself, John Bailey as Crew of Hertzog in Wonderland, Matthew Nicolav as Crew of Hertzog in Wonderland, Tanja Koop as Crew of Hertzog in Wonderland, Marty Signore as Crew of Hertzog in Wonderland
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