Undeniably an ardently independent filmmaker with unique and eccentric vision, Alan Rudolph has made some peculiarly fascinating movies.
"Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" radiated with atmospheric, addled Algonquin Roundtable intellectualism. "Afterglow" made the threadbare theme of marital infidelity almost hypnotically riveting.
Even when he goes down in flames, like he did with last year's "Breakfast of Champions" adaptation, he does it so spectacularly that it's almost impossible to look away.
His less disastrous new film "Trixie" is cryptically interesting in much the same way. An interestingly mishandled amalgam of film noir detective story and quirky, manifold, melancholy comedy it stars Emily Watson as Trixie Zurbo, a coy, hapless casino security guard with a 5th grade education and delusions of grandeur about her abilities as a detective.
Trixie is a wide-eyed woman whose deepest personality traits are her gnawing Chicago accent, her grinding of huge wads of bubble gum and her seemingly endless supply of mixed metaphors, mangled idioms and other malapropisms. The girl can hardly form a complete sentence without saying something like "I think there are brighter clouds ahead of me" or "I'm gonna get 'em by hook or by ladder."
Acting on her own initiative, this greenhorn gumshoe -- who is easily distracted from her job wandering the rows of slot machines at a low-rent lakefront resort -- gets in over her head investigating the murder of a strung-out, washed-up lounge singer (Lesley Ann Warren) and its connection to a greedy land developer (Will Patton) and a crooked politician (Nick Nolte).
But beyond that rough sketch of a plot, it isn't easy to follow what is going on in this scattershot comedy. The picture plays kind of like a cheapie "Twin Peaks" crossed with a game of Mad Libs, and even with her misfiring synapses and slaughtered syntax, Trixie still makes more sense than anyone else or anything else in the movie.
An amazingly natural and ever-resourceful actress, Watson is a strong enough anchor to keep the audience interested in Trixie long after her mangled verbal missives have gotten tiresome and the movie has gallops off into nonsense.
She speaks such volumes of character with the slightest inflections that just the way she wrinkles her nose in dim but determined squints hints at Trixie's whole lifetime of being slightly out of sync with the rest of the world and her frustration with not really understanding why.
Her supporting cast attempts to break their stereotype molds with varying degrees of success. Nolte is almost cartoon-like in his maximum-gruff performance as the politico whose closet is bursting with skeletons. Clad in painful plaid jackets and a bad comb-over, Patton ("Gone In 60 Seconds," "The Postman" and this week's "Jesus' Son") is a variation on the petty, wannabe despot character he's so often hired to play.
Dermot Mulroney ("Where the Money Is," "My Best Friend's Wedding") fares a little better as Patton's crude, slimeball henchman whose imagined lady-killer reputation is endangered when he becomes smitten with Trixie. Her other allies are Nathan Lane, ideal as a cheap casino comedian, and Brittany Murphy ("Girl, Interrupted," "Clueless"), playing a giggly hooker/aspiring singer.
But since most of them seem even less coherent than our heroine, there's a lot of addition to be done in your head if you want to keep up with Trixie's neophyte sleuthing.
For a while I thought the characters spoke in streams of nonsense because perhaps we were hearing them in Trixie's head. But writer-director Rudolph never gives any indication that this might be the case. So when he brings the plot down to his heroine's level (the resolution of the mystery borders on moronic), the movie falters, becoming too convoluted, perforated and preposterous to enjoy.
Run time: 116 mins
In Theaters: Friday 18th August 2000
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 27%
Fresh: 13 Rotten: 36
IMDB: 5.0 / 10
Director: Alan Rudolph
Starring: Emily Watson as Trixie Zurbo, Nick Nolte as Senator Drummond Avery, Dermot Mulroney as Dex Lang, Nathan Lane as Kirk Stans, Brittany Murphy as Ruby Pearli, Lesley Ann Warren as Dawn Sloane, Will Patton as W. 'Red' Rafferty, Stephen Lang as Jacob Slotnick
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