- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

On a clear day, the curvy thoroughfare called Mulholland Drive can provide impressive scenic vistas of Los Angeles, Hollywood and the Pacific Ocean to the west and the San Fernando Valley and San Gabriel Mountains to the east. In David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive," a perversely attenuated mystery thriller about denizens of the movie colony, many a narrative goose chase, red herring, dead end and U-turn must be humored before the plot arrives at an arbitrary and bewildering destination 2 1/2 hours later.
Figuratively speaking, Mr. Lynch takes his ominously sweet time to drive off a cliff. Nevertheless, the excursion and the wreckage may prove diverting. Although far from satisfying or coherent as an exercise in droll mystification or an allegory on the theme "Lost in Hollywood," the newest opus from Mr. Lynch is undeniably inimitable. At its most enjoyable, it generates some incidental but nutty and beguiling comic payoffs.
The movie commences on a misleading note of the anachronistic, with images of young folks jitterbugging to rock 'n' roll. One of the leading ladies, Laura Harring as a dishy brunette amnesiac who borrows the first name Rita in a pinch, enters soon afterward, the solitary passenger in the back of a limo evidently headed along Mulholland very spookily, in the dead of night.
Intimations suggest she could be a victim of foul play. For the purposes of the prologue, she becomes the sole survivor of a car crash, perhaps provoked by the jitterbuggers, suddenly re-envisioned as reckless hot rodders. Anyway, Miss Harring staggers out of the vehicle, stumbles down a hill or two and takes refuge, rather like Goldilocks, in an apartment about to be vacated by its resident, departing on a holiday.
The empty apartment starts to fill up with the arrival of a genuinely ingenuous and ingratiating Goldilocks: Naomi Watts as aspiring actress Betty, invited to housesit by her aunt, the vacationing tenant. Upon discovering homeless Rita, tenderhearted Betty is stirred to play angel of mercy and amateur sleuth. Between auditions, Betty noses into clues that might uncover Rita's true identity.
Simultaneously, Mr. Lynch launches subplots that may or may not crisscross with the exploits of Betty and Rita. Justin Theroux as a young film director, Adam, confronts slapstick marital betrayal at home and possible criminal interference on the job. The latter is epitomized by Dan Hedaya as a ranting, menacing moneybag who soon drops out of the movie. Robert Forster as a police detective investigating the wreck on Mulholland, a logical follow-up to Rita's plight, does a premature disappearing act of his own, suggesting that Mr. Lynch may doubt the existence of characters once they exit the picture frame.
There's a morbidly farcical interlude about a blundering contract killer who ends up overdoing things with three homicides and one critically injured vacuum cleaner. The customers at a diner called Winkie's seem to be spooked in ways that echo the vintage English chiller "Dead of Night." Infernal creatures lurk behind Winkie's for reasons that remain a Halloween secret to Mr. Lynch.
The movie's self-evident selling point is the breathless doll-face charm projected by Miss Watts. Her audition scene with Chad Everett is a gratuitous but delightful set piece, perhaps inspired by Hollywood platitudes about being "in the moment." Betty and Rita also begin edging toward infatuation, enhanced by generous amounts of self-infatuation. This development is pictorially funny, because the actresses are groomed and coordinated as reciprocal enticements, one exquisitely fair and girlish, the other a raven-tressed, crimson-lipped man trap worthy of vintage pulp fiction.
Mr. Lynch finds the opportunity to get them in bed together, in circumstances that climax with one of the wittiest punch lines ever spoken, Rita's reply to Betty's wistful inquiry "Have you ever done this before?"
Personally, I would have encouraged Mr. Lynch to explore the lesbian angle more generously. It's the happiest inspiration in "Mulholland Drive."
Frequently a puzzlement, the plot takes an upside-down turn for the calamitous soon after Betty and Rita become lovebirds. The results scarcely justify the switcheroo, which obliges Miss Watts to become a pathetic shadow of darling Betty and Miss Harring a cliched Hollywood slut without redeeming attributes. Not so gallant after all, Mr. Lynch treats his heroines abominably while wrapping up the show. Obviously, he can have the make-believe any way he prefers, but the plot reversals amount to self-sabotage. He had something better going for a while, especially when getting a little silly about it.

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