George Reeves' death remains one of Hollywood's juiciest unsolved mysteries. After years spent clinging to the industry's fringe, the performer shot to stardom in 1952 when he hopped into Superman's red-and-blue tights for a Saturday-morning serial. The role made Reeves an overnight sensation, but also damaged any chances he had of becoming a serious actor.
Off camera, Reeves (Ben Affleck) reportedly wallowed in a directionless affair with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the two-timing wife of MGM executive E.J. Mannix (Bob Hoskins). Seven years after agreeing to play the Man of Steel, an unsatisfied Reeves was discovered shot to death in his Beverly Hills bedroom while his selfish fiancée, Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney), and a handful of strangers, partied downstairs.
What happened? Did Mannix have Reeves murdered? Could Lemmon have pulled the trigger? Or did the actor finally give in to his depression and commit suicide? During production, when the movie was titled Truth, Justice and the American Way, director Allen Coulter's modern noir biopic of the late Superman star looked like it was going to try and solve the mystery behind the actor's peculiar death. But the studio changed the title, opting for the generic Hollywoodland, and Coulter switched his focus away from Reeves and onto Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), the two-bit, ambulance-chasing private detective who latched onto Reeves' case.
The decision might have been paid off, save for the fact that Simo's pedestrian troubles are far less interesting than the ones plaguing Reeves. He's separated from his wife (Molly Parker), sleeping with his assistant, and too drunk to notice the emotional damage he's inflicting on his only son. Brody's defiant attitude slices through Coulter's glum, leaden atmosphere. His dull domestic issues aside, Brody proves adept at playing the amoral, borderline-sleazy gumshoe and almost wrings some suspense from Reeves' unsolved murder. It's not unheard of for a movie detective to be more interesting than the corpse he (or she) is investigating. This just isn't one of those times.
It's worth noting Affleck's presence after a self-inflicted exile. The general consensus around Hollywood is that the actor's professional career is dead, done in by a lethal combination of tabloid overexposure (not always his fault) and a string of underperforming duds (almost always his fault). So it's morbidly appropriate that the first time we see the Oscar-winning star in Hollywoodland, he's a bloated, blue corpse resting peacefully on the mortuary's slab.
Things gradually improve for Big Ben. Told in golden-hued reverence, Reeves' flashbacks involve corruption that stretches from the studio system to the front offices of the L.A.P.D. Affleck and Lane are puffed-up and stilted, presenting these figures as if the industry elite never stopped overacting in the '40s. I'm giving Affleck the benefit of the doubt, assuming his stiff turn is because he calculated Reeves' inabilities as a natural performer. Regardless, the Reeves-Mannix affair is bolstered by luscious nostalgia, and I longed for more scenes recounting the day-to-day happenings in America's dream factory.
So rest easy, Bryan Singer. Even though your summer blockbuster took a beating in the press for going over budget, Superman Returns remains the more interesting of the Man of Steel movies released this year.
Try to break this glass with your heat vision, Supe.
Run time: 126 mins
In Theaters: Friday 8th September 2006
Box Office USA: $14.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $16.8M
Distributed by: Focus Features
Production compaines: Focus Features
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Fresh: 123 Rotten: 56
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Allen Coulter
Producer: Jake Myers, Glenn Williamson
Screenwriter: Paul Bernbaum
Starring: Adrien Brody as Louis Simo, Diane Lane as Toni Mannix, Ben Affleck as George Reeves, Bob Hoskins as Eddie Mannix, Lois Smith as Helen Bessolo, Kathleen Robertson as Carol Van Ronkel, Robin Tunney as Leonore Lemmon, Todd Grinnell as Times Reporter
Also starring: Jake Myers