Black Dahlia, The

MPAA Rating: R

Entertainment: +1

Content: -4

FILM SYNOPSIS: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart,Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr, Fiona Shaw. Thriller. Screenplay by Josh Friedman.

Directed by Brian De Palma (The Untouchables, Scarface, Dressed to Kill), from James Ellroys (L.A. Confidential) best-selling crime novel, The Black Dahlia weaves a fictionalized tale of obsession, corruption, and depravity around the brutal murder of a Hollywood starlet. The shocking murder fascinated the nation in 1947 and remains unsolved today. In this take, two ex-pugilist cops, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) and Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett), are called to investigate the homicide of ambitious silver-screen B-lister Betty Ann Short (Mia Kirshner) A.K.A. The Black Dahliaan attack so grisly that images of the killing were kept from the public. (She was cut in half and several organs were removed, among other atrocities.)

PREVIEW REVIEW: At first, this screen version of the infamous murder case reminded me of a classic film noir, with its bluezy background music and stylized art and set design, which effectively captures 40s Los Angeles. The narration begins like those Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlow crime dramas. And to add to the films possibilities, the producers cast the always promising Scarlett Johansson. Even the main character, played by Josh Hartnett (still looking for the role that will erase our memory of his association with Hollywood Homicide), appears to display an angst-fueled charm. Then, suddenly, and despite the opening promisings, The Black Dahlia becomes a convoluted mess. I mean the kind of mess that lands a film on a 10 Worst Films of the Year list.

The story, which actually has little to do with the poor girl who was viciously murdered, becomes convoluted to the point of parody. Indeed, I am reminded of the silly Steve Martin noir-comedy Dead Men Dont Wear Plaid, where the comic inserted scenes from every 40s crime drama he could get rights to. Martins comic murder mystery became increasingly ludicrous, which worked for a comedy. De Palmas fictionalized twist of the Dahlias story also becomes more and more ludicrous with its bizarre subplot twists and a line up of freaks more suitable to Quentin Tarantinos Kill Bill.

Im sure as you come across other reviews, youll find rabid details concerning performances, cheeky characters, rhythmless direction and the increasing need for the audiences suspension of disbelief. Suffice it to say, this Dahlia deserves a quick death.

Video alternative suggestion: Id like to suggest L.A. Confidential, a parable about justice and redemption, with smart dialogue, character development, complex yet involving structure, and gritty film noir-ish atmosphere. Alas, it contains an overwhelming amount of profane and desensitizing material. The Hollywood of today has forgotten that a tale - even concerning vice - can be told without brutalizing the audience. Therefore, Ill suggest The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart. True, its also convoluted, but the dialogue, performances and direction are so fun, you dont care who done it.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: Everyone in the cast gets their chance to curse.

Obscene Language: 25 f-words, and a sprinkling of other obscenities.

Profanity: 2 GDs, 4 JCs.

Violence: Sensory-pummeling violence ranging from slow-mo boxing bouts to the depiction of a mutilated, bloodless female body. Shootings, beatings, strangulations, and other forms of physical cruelty. The decaying, mutilated and severed corpse of the Dahlia is repeatedly seen in the morgue, in pictures and in a field. It is so shocking, one has to look away. A man is strangled with a wire and a woman is seen being tortured, another woman cutting the helpless girls face. Murdered bodies are found, including a child with a bullet hole in the head. Blood: Blood oozes from dying bodies.

Sex: Three or four sexual encounters; a couple of them become graphic.

Nudity: Both men and women.

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: On several occasions.

Drugs: Drinking and nearly every character smokes.

Other: None

Running Time: 121 minutes
Intended Audience: Adults

Click HERE for a PRINTER-FRIENDLY version of this review.