Hurlyburly [1998]

You wouldn't want to spend much time with the folks from David Rabe's play Hurlyburly. A sensation when it played on stage (with marquee names Harvey Keitel and William Hurt), Rabe's tale of the cocaine-influenced days of Hollywood in the 1980s is a bitter rambling of what humans do with too much drive, power, and money. Robin Williams's joke about cocaine being God's way of telling you have too much money certainly comes into play here. A few days in the life of casting agent Eddie (Sean Penn) and his friends (separated by a year) take place in Eddie's posh L.A. bungalow. Here he and his roomie Mickey (Kevin Spacey) talk nonstop about sex and power, syntax and meaning. Into this wash comes a charitable bigwig (Gary Shandling), a street kid (Anna Paquin), and Eddie's rudderless friend, the violent Phil (Chazz Palminteri). If there is a central story to be found, it's Eddie's drive to fall in love with Darlene (Robin Wright Penn), who finds this world exciting--or at least intoxicating. This is not the bunch to invite over to your house, and many might even want to skip the two-hour film with its talky, pathetic prose. These characters would probably be despicable even if they weren't addicted to some narcotic. And the talk is endless; conversations that finish with a door slam are taken up moments later on the cell phone (a nice updating touch by Rabe). What draws big-name actors to Rabe's work is the chance to work on one's raw acting talent. Penn and Palminteri fit their roles like gloves, and Spacey again proves he is one of the most watchable actors around. Every nuance, bad pun, and irrelevant slip of Spacey's wicked tongue has a brutal kind of poetry here in a film that can be admired but not loved. --Doug Thomas

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