Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ask the Dust: The Wrong Fit

Ask the Dust (2006) fits like a glove on the wrong hand. In many ways, it still performs the function is supposed to, but the cloth is taut where it shouldn't, and it's immobility infringes on its usefulness. Yet it's still better than no glove at all, and a mediocre movie of John Fante's novel is better than no movie at all. Writer/Director Robert Towne tries to play Fante's game by Hollywood's rules, using dialogue that is sharp only in that points in one direction. The story of Arturo Bandini doesn't fit the Hollywood mould, and the movie feels like a struggle between apathetic whim and strained predictability. But that even a strain of whim works its way into the film makes it worthwhile. Bandini (played by Colin Farrell) is a young writer from small-town Colorado recently relocated to the Bunker Hill region of L.A., an area full of "old ladies and weak men" as one woman describes it. The woman is Camilla Lopez (Salma Hayek), a Mexican waitress at a nearby diner. Days after I've seen the movie, I still can't pin-point their relationship: one moment he's busy playing (badly, at that) the cool, detatched, semi-belligerant writer (and she does her part to instigate it), and the next they're in a beach-front shack while he teaches her how to read English. But neither extreme is out of Bandini's capacity, nor out of Camilla's, which marks Ask the Dust several steps above the typical Hollwood romances.

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