Cinema Signal:

Hogan's Heroes:
Behind the Scenes at Stalag 13


. "Auto Focus"

This is a movie that does itself and its makers no favors. By depicting characters operating in a world of depravity, with no redeemable qualities in sight, they lose audience sympathy and there's little going on to keep you interested in the life of Bob Crane unless it's in how he died. By the time this happens I'm wondering why the murder didn't occur in the second act instead of the latter part of the third when I'm also wondering why a movie deal was put together for a biography about this particular depraved personality.

Bob Crane was the star of "Hogan's Heroes", a 1960s light comedy TV hit, which partly explains it. This is for his fans. This is for his fans? Wait a minute. This "expose" of who he was in his private life is likely to destroy whatever fans might have retained an interest in him all these years. And, even that's hard to imagine -- that there would be that many who would give a second thought to Mr. Bland of so long ago.

Bob Crane, in other words, was about as engaging as ear muffs. So who do they get to play him but bland Greg Kinnear? The man who became his off stage sidekick and leader down a path of considerable sordidness, John Capenter (not the director), is done by Willem Dafoe in such a way that he seems to be enforcing the character rather than playing him.

As we go through Crane's career moves we come to the sit down first reading of the pilot for "Hogan's Heroes". When Crane reads his first lines, he forces them to the point where the director stops him and gives him words of great wisdom. "You're the star, Bob. You don't have to convince us of that; you can just be it". Crane takes the advice to heart and plays his role with the easy, relaxed charm it called for.

Who didn't hear this sage advice was Willem Dafoe. He brings an energy level to his dialogue that isn't warranted by the words, the moment or the timing.

These are the observations I took away from this sad spectacle of a movie, which has something to do with the philandering, sex-obsessed deviant that this movie tells us Crane was. Furthermore, you can't do a movie about pornography and keep your hands and minds clean. In this, the filmakers go a long way toward recreating the subject matter, with the help of very appropriate cast of supporting players.

Some one involved with this deal also probably thought there were award level lead parts in this script, judging by the oscar season publicity targetted to members of the motion picture academy. I'd advise them to fuggedaboudit.

Maria Bello as Crane's second wife was fine and again reveals her fine potentials that we hope will be realized in a more ideal vehicle.

Director Paul Schrader's taste in film subjects leans toward the seamy underside of society, as depicted in his "Hardcore" and "American Gigolo". Unfortunately for him this time out, depravity is no guarantee of drama. He shows us sick people and, instead of fascinating us in some way, they're merely sickening.

Then again, prurience sells, and this gets us to the crass, cynical underside of Hollywood to explain why the deal was made and why "Auto Focus" is in our midst.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Greg Kinnear, Michael E. Rodgers and Willem Dafoe:
Bob Crane's bar buddies

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