Back in the 1950's, polio survivor Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman, "Matchstick Man," "Big Fish") was the 'miracle girl' who appeared at the end of the legendary thirty-nine hour marathon conducted by American's favorite comic duo, Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon, "Mystic River," "The Woodsman') and Vince Collins (Colin Firth, "Love Actually," "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason"). Fifteen years later, Karen has decided to write a tell-all that will finally determine the reason for her heroes' breakup and what really happened to Maureen O'Flaherty (Rachel Blanchard, "Without a Paddle"), the dead woman found in their hotel suite that morning. But Karen gets caught up in a web of falsehoods of her own in trying to find out "Where the Truth Lies."
Writer/director Atom Egoyan ("The Sweet Hereafter," "Ararat") has looked at the dark underbelly of a television personality before in "Felicia's Journey" and all of his films involve looking for truth behind facade, but with "Where the Truth Lies," Egoyan's gone of the map with a corny, lurid tale that plays like a Sidney Sheldon novel. Egoyan has made his "Showgirls."
The film is presented with multiple points of view, flashing back and forth between the richly colored past and the washed out current day in the early 1970s. The act, which is based on Martin and Lewis, is described in voice over by Lanny, who claims that his suave straight man Vince's presence 'gave America permission to like me.' The duo are close best friends well supplied with amphetamines, booze and broads. They're also strong armed by mobster Sally SanMarco (Egoyan regular Maury Chaykin, "Being Julia") into opening his new club in New Jersey with the marathon telethon and promises of hookers, caviar, lobster and champagne.
The heroine is supplied with a school teacher best friend (Sonja Bennett, "The Fog," as Bonnie Trout) who lives in New York so that Karen can apartment swap from the west to east coast, and, conveniently, appropriate another identity (the blonde heroine switching places with a brunette in a retro version of Hollywood is very "Mulholland Drive"). Karen has gained access to Collins, but it is a First class coincidence, both literally and figuratively, when she finds herself seated with Lanny, her long time crush, on a flight to New York. Afraid of spooking him off if she reveals her project, Karen introduces herself as Bonnie Trout, then ends up in his bed. She awakens the next morning to find herself alone, no note, but later is shipped a copy of Lanny's book in progress that purports to tell the real story, ostensibly to dissuade her from pursuing her own tome. When she next visits Vince, he springs a surprise on her, though. After all these years, he's invited Lanny to join them.
It is Karen, though, who eventually puts the pieces together to arrive at the truth, which, amusingly, is a cliche of the highest order. In fact, Egoyan's treatment of this material (adapted from Rupert Holmes's novel) is so off kilter, one can only wonder if his tongue was firmly embedded in cheek throughout. There's the truly risible dialogue, particularly Karen's ('all she had left of her daughter was a tree' she intones over footage of the victim's mother in her garden). There's the children's benefit which Vince brings her to at Wonderland, where Lewis Carroll's Alice adventure is staged every year with a heroine (Kristin Adams) who sings Jefferson Airplane's druggy "Go ask Alice!" There's the parade of lobsters which are supposed to inspire dread but which begin to seem silly.
But this doesn't explain the uneven acting, from Bacon and Firth's game attempts (Bacon, in particular, achieves a true, regretful melancholy, but the duo never convince as a legendary act), to the over the top turns of Chaykin (hilarious, nonetheless) and Beau Starr ("Cinderella Man") as the obviously crooked cop, to the over-her-head performance given by Lohman who seems to be trying to project maturity with eye makeup. David Hayman ("The Tailor of Panama") as Lanny's valet Rubin and Rachel Blanchard as the dead beauty are dupes of the machinations of the script and the presence of Egoyan regulars Don McKellar ("The Red Violin") and his wife Arsinée Khanjian ("Ararat") in small roles as publishing executives is purely self indulgent and distracting. In leaving his trail of clues, the director leaves more questions unanswered (just exactly how do Morris and Collins explain the disappearance of an audience member?) and isn't exactly subtle, a quality which also permeates the musical score by Mychael Danna "Ararat"), which, while of the appropriate periods, piles on the melodramatic flourishes. There's also the nagging feeling of watching an old television movie, except, of course, for the sex scenes which earned the film an NC-17 (ThinkFilm is releasing it unrated).
"Where the Truth Lies" could almost work as a comedic parody, except that tonally it more often appears earnest. The truth is, Egoyan's latest got away from him.
Robin's review coming soon!
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