“YOUR NAME HERE” (2008)

Starring: Bill Pullman, Taryn Manning, Traci Lords, M. Emmet Walsh, Harold Perrineau, Ivana Milicevic, Dave Sheridan, Bruce McKenzie, Mircea Monroe, Amanda Decker, Mark Weitala & Richard Riehle
Written & Directed by Matthew Wilder

Polly Staffle Rating: *

In one of his recent adventures in genre entertainment, Bill Pullman plays a character that gets up in the morning, walks out to his balcony, which is several floors up, and takes a nose-dive splat down to the concrete pavement below. The film was Takashi Shimizu’s “The Grudge” and Pullman’s character had been consumed with fury thanks to a curse. Pullman’s plunge happens before the opening credits roll. In “Your Name Here,” which Pullman plays a science fiction writer in, there is no vengeful supernatural spirit causing Pullman to jump to his death, which is actually quite a shame because this unfunny dark comedy is dead on arrival.

Pullman plays William J. Frick. It is the summer of 1974. Though the visionary novelist is praised and loved by many, all is not right in Frick’s world. While trying to complete his latest masterpiece, which is said to replace “The Bible” as the book on how to live one’s life, Frick is visited by one of his ex-wives (former Porn Star and John Waters alum Traci Lords with Sally Jessy Raphael glasses) demanding alimony. He is also visited by a mysterious man named Duke (Dave Sheridan) and the book publisher Lipschitz (Richard Riehle). We learn in these early moments of the film that Frick is an awful father, he’s a heavy drug user, he seems to be suffering from writer’s block, he has recently had some type of God-like vision while eating at a taco stand and that he’s obsessed with his stillborn sister and an actress named Nikki (based off Victoria Principal and played by a dolled up Taryn Manning).

Then things get weird. No, they become a jumbled up mess. This film feels like the aborted bastard love child of David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Terry Gilliam and Alex Cox; only its not nearly as entertaining as anything those four directors have created. What the Frick? Is it all a dream? Is it a nightmare? Has Frick been transformed into an alternate universe? Is he really high on some Hunter S. Thompson “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” psychedelic freak out? Is the government after him? Is he sexually frustrated and this is all some crazy wet dream? Is he in a coma? Is he a messiah? Is he insane? Is he in hell? Or is it just the viewer that feels that way?

A guy named Kroger, who may be trying to help or hurt Frick, is the gumpy M. Emmet Walsh one minute and then the sexy Ivana Milicevic (“Witless Protection”) the next. Nikki is now no longer just an obsession. She’s stripping naked and trying to seduce Frick, who passes out and begins to snore before she can fully expose herself. Soon Nikki is seducing his ex-wife Julie. But wait, is Nikki a robot? Oh, she and Julie are actually a big black guy and an Asian woman. Frick is being tricked with the use of holograms. Yes, holograms, robots, alternate universes, gender-changing characters and I forgot to mention a dead baby that talks. Have I lost you yet? That’s fine because I was ready to bail before this film was halfway through its 106 minutes.

I saw it through, hoping it would improve. Sadly, it was at its best in the opening scene. Duke was a good character. Aside from the score by Michael Roth, which is very much like something Wendy Carlos would have come up with for Stanley Kubrick, Duke is definitely the film’s highlight. The film opens with a one take tracking shot following him though a party at Frick’s house. It’s sort of a low rent version of a scene from “Boogie Nights.” We follow along as Duke hassles and hounds everyone at the house till he finds Frick’s work study. Dave Sheridan, the man that created the MTV show “Buzzkill” and makes up part of the comedy band Van Stone, plays the groovy Duke. This guy is straight from the seventies and a hell of a lot of fun. Duke comes off a lot like Giuseppe Andrews’ Deputy Winston in “Cabin Fever” crossed with Sheridan’s own character Doug Gormley of “Ghost World” and the videos of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (“By the Way” and “Universally Speaking.”) Duke is greatly underused. But even more of this loveable guy couldn’t have saved this film.

My biggest gripe here is they took a very sad story and tried to play it as a comedy. The film is based loosely on sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, who wrote “A Scanner Darkly,” later turned into a Richard Linklater film, as well as the stories that “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,” “Screamers,” “Paycheck,” “Minority Report” and “Impostor” were based off of. Philip K. Dick was a heavy drug user that suffered from paranoia and schizophrenia. His twin sister died five weeks after their births, he married and divorced five times, he had a stroke in 1982 and was disconnected from life support five days later to depart our world. There’s nothing funny about any of the things I just mentioned. “Your Name Here” tries to turn the tragedies of Philip K. Dick’s life into a bizarre “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” meets “Memento” freak show. It’s not an awe-inspiring celebration of his art like “Ed Wood,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt” or “Man on the Moon.” It’s laughing at him, not with him, and comes off twisted and pretty damn sick if you ask me.

Prior to the film’s world premiere at the 10th Annual CineVegas Film Festival, writer and director Matthew Wilder said that Bill Pullman is “a God among actors in America” and that his performance in “Your Name Here” sends Pullman shooting to “the top of the top.” But Bill Pullman simply plays Bill Pullman in the film. He’s pretty much always the same. He never shows any range and is very much like one of Phillip K. Dick’s characters that has lost his identity to an emotionless robot. Sure with the beard, he looks sort of like Michael Douglas crossed with Robin Williams and he spits L. Ron Hubbard babble crossed with Charles Manson in “Your Name Here,” but it is still the same old Bill Pullman.

Wilder, who has written for Oliver Stone (“Day of Reckoning”) and Clive Barker (“American Heretics”), next is developing “Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story.” The plan is for the always great Anna Faris to play the seventies porn icon of “Deep Throat” that later served as a spokeswoman for the anti-pornography movement. Perhaps Wilder will treat the story of the woman that starred in one of the most profitable pornographic films ever made, survived hepatitis, only to later die in a car crash without a nickel to her name, with a bit more respect than he did Philip K. Dick’s. If not and I sit through it, I might find myself taking a swan dive off a balcony like Pullman’s character in “The Grudge.”

- CCF, June 2008


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