In the self-consciously Chandleresque mystery saga "From Hollywood to Deadwood" (at the AMC Century 14), fledgling writer-director Rex Pickett wants to operate within the hard-boiled detective tradition, but his movie is merely scrambled.
The story has all the tough, cynical conventions of classic film noir : private eye (or eyes, since this version has two heroes) sent off in search of a troublesome-but-beautiful brunette who turns out to be less femme fatale than tragic victim. Private eyes find that their employer(s) had much more sinister reasons for hiring them than was at first naively assumed. Feeling used and implicated in the evil, the detectives wreak the necessary justice and wind up slightly tougher and more cynical than when the piece began.
Not a bad little pattern for a dramaturgist to follow. But the predecessors Pickett is straining to emulate, reached their dark, pulpy conclusions out of some dark, real-life sensibilities that had real weight. "Deadwood" is full of dead weight, the heavy weight of homage, and the weight of truth in the maxim that film schools turn out \o7 auteurs \f7 who make movies mostly about other movies.
The biggest wrinkle Pickett introduces into the old formula is in providing the plot with two detective heroes. The effect, though, seems less for innovation's sake than for the sake of grafting the buddy-movie formula onto the existing one. One detective, Raymond Savage (Scott Paulin), falls for the knockout target of their search, while the older, wiser, harder-drinking of the two, Jack Haines (Jim Haynie), tries to knock some sense into his love-struck partner.
The missing person in question is luscious Lana Dark (Barbara Schock), who disappeared, apparently in a prima donna huff, from a movie set and shut down production at great cost to some possibly slimy producer types who've hired our heroes. That this obscure object of desire does not turn out to be a Garbo-like head turner when we finally catch up with her in Deadwood, S.D., is not all that surprising. The entire picture is wildly miscast, lead actors included.
To reinforce the forced art-vs.-reality subtext of the picture, there's a black-and-white film-within-the-film, full of allusions to such classics as "Out of the Past." This sepia-toned homage is pale in more ways than one. "From Hollywood to Deadwood" (MPAA-rated R for language)--is the work of a major film fan, not a major film maker.