In "Where the Truth Lies," the 10th feature film by prolific Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon play Vince Collins and Lanny Morris, a comedy song-and-dance team with a striking resemblance to Martin and Lewis, except one is British and the other not as weird.
Shuttling between the 1950s, when the act was at its apex, and the 1970s, after the formerly inseparable duo has mysteriously parted company, the film follows the efforts of an ambitious young journalist, Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman), to uncover the truth behind their bust-up. Karen has a personal as well as a professional stake in the story of Lanny and Vince, as she happened to appear on one of their popular polio telethons as a child, moving Lanny to tears. Lanny, as it happens, had other things to cry about that day, and eventually Karen learns a little something about worshiping false idols -- not that she's the model of probity herself.
There, in a gorgeously shot and designed (by Paul Sarossy and Phillip Barker, respectively) nutshell, is the thrust of the story: In Hollywood, things are not always as they seem. Believe it, baby.
As if this weren't enough to cope with all at once, the film also advances the notion that journalists can be a sneaky, underhanded bunch capable of doing anything for a story. That goes double for sexy young journalists in backless pantsuits and disco eye shadow, especially when they're given large advances by major publishing companies and told to go out and bring home the dirt.
So Karen meets with Vince in a smoky Hollywood bar to persuade him to collaborate -- as in cough up the scoop on exactly what happened to the beautiful girl who turned up dead in their hotel room lo those many years ago.
Sex, drugs, intrigue, murder, extortion, betrayal -- it's all in there, every which way. Actually, mostly back and forth. As its convertible title suggests, "Where the Truth Lies" is big on the Manichean dualism in everything. Straight man and comic, interviewer and subject, ingenue and jaded cynic, star and servile nobody -- each is as neatly reversible as a J. Crew windbreaker, if you just know where to tug.
On her way back to New York after her tete-a-tete with Vince, Karen happens to land in the first-class seat next to Lanny's. Lanny, meanwhile, has no idea that she and the journalist he's recently authorized his lawyer to show portions of his memoir-in-progress to, to try to dissuade her from proceeding with her own project, are one and the same nubile youngster.
The movie calls to mind some of Egoyan's earlier work, before he made films like "The Sweet Hereafter," in that axes are ground into fine points. Firth and Bacon bring enough talent and experience to their not very realistic characters to breathe some life into them, but poor Lohman, who is lovely, is stuck playing a symbol in fabulous outfits.
To give much more away would spoil the movie's simple if serviceable twists, which keep the mystery humming along at a decent clip.
But the real reason to see it is its style, which sets an otherwise fairly unremarkable whodunit in a seedy, lite-Lynchian wonderland that's enjoyable to hang out in for a while.
The dialogue too is riddled with silly-noir pleasures, as when Karen's publisher tells her editor, "We've leased an oil well called Vince Collins and granted Ms. O'Connor the right to tap. I think we have a responsibility to monitor the drilling." Now that's the kind of mythic, silver-tongued glamour that attracts a girl to publishing.
Too bad nothing is as it seems.
'Where the Truth Lies'
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Contains explicit sex scenes, nudity, violence and drug use
Serendipity Point Films presents in association with First Choice Films, the Movie Network, Telefilm Canada, Movie Central and Ego Film Arts. Written and directed by Atom Egoyan. Based on the novel by Rupert Holmes. Produced by Robert Lantos. Director of photography Paul Sarossy. Production designer Phillip Barker. Editor Susan Shipton. Music by Mychael Danna. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
In selected theaters.