The excitement of David Lynch's return to the big screen, ending an absence of five years, starts to taper off steadily after the breathless credits sequence of automobile headlights gobbling up an infinite dotted yellow line underneath the retro pulp-paperback lettering. It -- the excitement, such as it is -- does not drop off sharply. An indefinite, indefinable noir-ish mood of malaise, paranoia, Angst, tension, strain, and general heebie-jeebies is strongly established. A consistency of tone and texture, technically very adept, is cultivated through the visual ambience of chi-chi color (chocolate, salmon), interior shadows which in places approach the specifications of an extraterrestrial black hole, and almost Kubrickian, almost Antonionian expanses of empty space and blank walls around an isolated, alienated figure. And the spectator who is prepared to keep his part of the unwritten bargain, and meet the artist halfway, has several junior-detective questions to chew on. For openers: What the hell is going on here? By the time the jazzman protagonist (a five-o'clock-shadowed Bill Pullman) metamorphoses inside a prison cell into an altogether different person (Balthazar Getty), the junior detective should be ready to resign from the case. The trademark Lynchian atmosphere of seaminess and sinfulness remains strong throughout (bolstered greatly by generous helpings of Patricia Arquette's flesh), but there is nothing to keep you guessing, pondering, wondering. You give up. The nightmarish vein of thriller carved out by such fictionists (and film noir fountainheads) as William Irish, Fredric Brown, David Goodis, John Franklin Bardin, was always most profitable when there was a waking-up, a clearing-up, in the dénouement. That was a major plank in their end of the bargain. Lynch honors no pact with anyone. He follows his own course of logic or illogic, a loop-the-loop path that spirals outward into ever deepening confusion, pretension, and tedium. Suggested better title: Lost Bearings. With Robert Blake, Robert Loggia, Gary Busey. (1997) — Duncan Shepherd
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