24 December 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Fans of David Rabe's controversial play from the 1980s will find special delight in this well-framed, finely acted adaptation from Fine Line Features.

Featuring superb lead performances from Sean Penn and Kevin Spacey and tight direction from Anthony Drazan, "Hurlyburly" should win recognition on the art house circuit. Penn won a deserved best actor honor from the Venice International Film Festival this year for his edgy, contained performance.

Those who may took in the play at the Westwood Playhouse in the '80s will remember it is set in Malibu at the abode of motion picture casting agents Eddie (Penn) and Mickey (Spacey). They're a fractured duo; both are compulsive and cynical and tend to treat people cavalierly and with no small amount of malice. That mendacious tendency, spurred by boozing and drug use, makes them a particularly lethal pair.

Eddie's hostility, in particular, carries over to his personal life, where he emotionally terrorizes the women he knows. At the moment, he's paired with a saucy player named Darlene Robin Wright Penn), whose detached sensibility and survival instincts jar Eddie -- she pretty much behaves as a man, tossing aside the opposite sex as tartly as any Hollywood womanizer.

Naturally, Rabe's acerbic, colorful writing is the highlight of this production. His verbiage is consistently assaultive as the characters thrash out the emptiness in their lives through hedonistic, self-absorbed behavior. The rhythm of the dialogue, counterpointing Eddie's aggressive posturing with Mickey's sardonic aloofness, fleshes out the inner despair these hollow men experience.

The players form a terrific ensemble. Bolstering Penn's central performance in particular is Spacey, who oozes comic cynicism and despair. With his hair dyed a bottled blond and wearing tight-ass suits, we are clued to the conflicts that surge beneath this man's guarded veneer. Chazz Palminteri is similarly strong as the addled screw-up of the bunch, a man so out of touch that he's always on the edge in this steep Mulholland Drive setting. Garry Shandling is convincing as a hanger-on, whose insecurities make him all too willing to please.

Meg Ryan does a smart and somewhat startling turn as a no-holds-barred woman of the evening, and Anna Paquin is moving as a runaway who holes up in this alpha-male lair.

Special praise to Drazan, not only for his work with the superb players but for his succinct visualization of the stage play. In particular, production designer Michael Haller's sharp-edged, metallic look clues us to the harsh coldness of this dissipated world, and cinematographer Changwei Gu's herky-jerky thrusts are perfectly aligned with this "Hurlyburly" world.


Fine Line Features

Producers: Anthony Drazan,

Richard N. Gladstein, David S. Hamburger

Director: Anthony Drazan

Screenwriter: David Rabe

Executive producers: H. Michael Heuser,

Frederick Zollo Nicholas Paleologos,

Carl Colpaert

Director of photography: Changwei Gu

Editor: Dylan Tichenor

Music: David Baerwald, Steve Lindsey

Production designer: Michael Haller

Costume designer: Mary Claire Hannan



Eddie: Sean Penn

Mickey: Kevin Spacey

Darlene: Robin Wright Penn

Phil: Chazz Palminteri

Artie: Garry Shandling

Donna: Anna Paquin

Bonnie: Meg Ryan

Running time - 92 minutes

MPAA rating: R

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