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A Fast-Track Life Is Derailed

The makers of 'ivansxtc' care deeply about their self-destructive Hollywood player of a protagonist. But will the audience?

June 07, 2002|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In "ivansxtc," Danny Huston is so dazzling as a charismatic, high-living Hollywood agent suddenly confronted with mortality at the moment of his greatest success that it makes the film seem all the more disappointing. Director Bernard Rose and co-writer Lisa Enos, who is also the film's leading lady, have drawn inspiration from Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" and the fate of Rose's agent Jay Maloney, whose meteoric career crashed over cocaine addiction and whose life ended in suicide. They bring an insider's perspective to Ivan's story but have made a major miscalculation in the way they tell it.

They clearly care deeply about Huston's Ivan Beckman and lay on swaths of Wagner and Chopin to pump up his destiny to the level of tragedy. However, they are unable to make it clear why an audience should feel the same about Ivan, a bold, confident dealmaker whose fast-track life catches up with him. To the filmmakers, Ivan is a prince of a fellow, but he comes across as shallow and glib though not mean-spirited, and there's no indication that he's been responsible for putting together any movies of particular value or merit.

It's sad when anyone dies so young, and there's a certain pathos in his discovery of how truly alone he is when he finds death staring him in the face. Yet, to put it bluntly, Ivan's death seems no great loss, and therefore it's hard to understand why the filmmakers consider his story worthy of a movie in the first place.

It might have been different if their approach had been coolly ironic rather than so admiringly awestruck. Granted, they discover in Ivan a certain sweetness, vulnerability and even naivete that sets him apart from the naked ruthlessness of many who surround him, including Enos' Charlotte, his ambitious girlfriend, but this is not enough of a distinction; we need to sense some depth of character to become involved with him and his sad fate.

Not helping matters is that except for a vivid, terse Peter Weller as a blunt-spoken, unapologetically morally repellent macho superstar, there is no one else around Ivan who generates the slightest interest. Hollywood, after all, is actually not in short supply of compelling, driven personalities loaded with complexities and contradictions.

This is not to say that the slice of Hollywood that the filmmakers show us seems lacking in authenticity or to overlook an appropriate skittishness in Rose's style, but it's not enough to save "ivansxtc" from, of all things, dullness. Hard-partying with a cornucopia of drugs and beautiful, available women is as old as Hollywood and therefore hardly news, and Hollywood has turned the camera on itself many times before in far more compelling fashion. Huston is splendid, but "ivansxtc" doesn't make the cut.

*

Unrated. Times guidelines: some sex, considerable drugs and alcohol, strong language.

'ivansxtc'

Danny Huston...Ivan Beckman

Peter Weller...Don West

Lisa Enos...Charlotte

James Merendino...Danny McTeague

Adam Krentzman...Barry Oaks

An Artistic License Films/Zenpix Inc. release of Rhino Films presentation of an Enos/Rose production. Director Bernard Rose. Producer Lisa Enos. Executive producers Steven Nemeth, Kenneth Enos, Cat Villiers, Lisa Henson. Screenplay Rose & Enos; based on "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Leo Tolstoy. Cinematographers Rose, Ron Forsythe.

Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, Beverly Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue, (323) 655-4010.

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