David Lynch's The Straight Story, we are hereby reassured, was the aberration; the twisted story is the one for him. In this case it's a braided story, besides twisted, of the intertwined fates of two women, one light and one dark, a starry-eyed, starry-sweatered Hollywood hopeful from Deep River, Ontario, and a haunted, hunted amnesiac from who knows where. The filmmaker's freedom from normal plot logic, to put it in the most neutral light, frees him to do pretty much whatever he wants. (Or, in a more jaundiced light, frees him to be the poster boy for self-indulgence.) In the result, the entertainment value is fitfully higher than in the average plodder chained to conventionality. For examples: the abstract swing-dance competition of the opening and the later lip-sync auditions to Girl Rock goldie-oldies; the well-wishing elderly couple at LAX whose mile-wide grins stretch all the way to rictus; the spectator-sport lesbianism tailored for the heterosexual male (the hilly landscape: little-known Naomi Watts, a wholesome Penelope Ann Miller type, and Laura Harring, a former Miss USA, formerly spelled Herring but never mistaken for a fish); the unpredictable casting of supporting parts (ex-hoofer Ann Miller, Lee Grant in a fright wig, one-time pretty boy and now pretty old man Chad Everett); the stiff, ill-fitting costume and dialogue of a shady character known as The Cowboy: "Stop and think for a little second. Can you do that for me?" Such bits and pieces, though they don't add up to a whole, let you know you are watching something out of the ordinary. Other bits and pieces, though they let you know the same thing, arouse less enthusiasm about it. The trade-off for all that freedom from logic is that Lynch is freed, too, from viewer involvement. And when toward the end he makes a concerted effort, zigging and zagging, to leave the viewer behind (dislocated time, swapped roles), most viewers will be just as happy to let him go ahead, if only he'd hurry up about it. The film is a slow two and a half hours, much of it clunkily staged and -- the most disheartening deviation from The Straight Story -- smearily photographed. (2001) — Duncan Shepherd
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