USA 1998

Reviewed by Richard Kelly


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Casting directors Eddie and Mickey share a condominium in the Hollywood hills. Eddie is abusing cocaine and feuding with Mickey over a woman, Darlene. Regular visitors to the condo are Phil, a belligerent aspiring actor with marital problems, and industry player Artie, who offers teenage runaway Donna to Eddie for sex. Mickey engineers Eddie and Darlene's reunion at a party. Donna flees the condo after Phil hits her. Phil tells Eddie he is reluctant to give his wife Susie the child she wants.

One year later: Eddie and Darlene are dating. Susie is divorcing Phil, although they have a baby daughter. One night the four men binge at the condo. Eddie summons dancer Bonnie as a date for Phil, who pushes her out of a moving car. Mickey and Artie harangue Eddie for tolerating Phil, and leave. Bonnie limps back, and Eddie unsuccessfully propositions her. Artie and Mickey return. Artie makes a date with Bonnie as she leaves. Phil shows up, having snatched his daughter. The next night, while quarrelling with Darlene, Eddie learns Phil has driven his car off the road and died. After the funeral, Eddie finds a puzzling note left by Phil and argues bitterly with an unconcerned Mickey. Later, floating face down in his pool, Eddie is surprised by Donna. They talk until she falls asleep on his sofa.


"Is that The Big One I hear? Bye, you lizard scum!" Thus did comedian Bill Hicks dream of bidding farewell to Los Angeles and its denizens in the much feared advent of a major earthquake. But Hicks' wrath was really aimed at LA's entertainment industry, making him just the latest in a long line of Hollywood Cassandras. From such books as Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust and Joan Didion's The White Album to Warren Zevon's ballad 'Desperadoes under the Eaves', the clever people have long reckoned Hollywood is just about due a hail of fire and brimstone.

David Rabe's Hurlyburly, originally a stage success of the 80s, partakes of the same apocalyptic spirit. Working with director Anthony Drazan (who made interracial romance Zebrahead), Rabe has creditably polished up and opened out his play for film. Stagy dialogues are recharged as casting directors Eddie and Mickey play cellphone tag from their respective sports cars. The glazed upmarket decors by the late Michael Haller (Hal Ashby's longtime collaborator) are spot-on, as is the elegant framing by Changwei Gu, doyen of Chinese Fifth Generation cinematographers. But none of this can redeem our suspicion that the characters stumbling over this fancy furniture are anything but terminally rotten human beings.

Although less well known outside the US, Rabe shares certain hard-edged tendencies with David Mamet. They're both good on the call-and-response rhythms of man-talk, and they both like to tease us with male characters who are scary in their self-delusion, prone to voicing repulsive sentiments as if they were the soul of sweet reason. Rabe is more earnest than Mamet: his characters might be corrupt, but they still want to protest the fate of mankind. Thus some kind of crux is reached in Hurlyburly when the lovelorn and self-loathing Eddie soliloquises to ditzy Bonnie about weapons of mass destruction that obliterate people yet leave buildings standing. If things and not humans will survive, Eddie concludes, then let's all be things. But naturally he can't help punctuating this cri de coeur with sobbing pleas for Bonnie to suck his dick.

Inevitably, cocaine is seen as the catalyst for much of this awful behaviour. Unfortunately Hurlyburly isn't such a bad advert for the hollow thrills of the drug. (There's a fine sequence during which Eddie lies giggling under a glass-top coffee table adorned with white lines, a razor blade and the daily Variety.) The female characters, meanwhile, have a tough time all round: both Donna and Bonnie take some licks from Phil. And yet, somehow, these people are seen to deserve each other. As the four reprobate males take turns cradling Phil's baby daughter, Eddie wonders aloud how the little lady might fare if they were to raise her. The audience clutches itself against a chill wind of irony.

Clearly, something about Rabe's writing has deep resonance for Sean Penn (so arresting in the Rabe-scripted Casualties of War). Penn is the most gifted and passionate US film actor of his generation, and a brilliant writer-director. But when he announced a premature retirement from movies a few years ago, Penn rightly lamented there are no longer enough committed directors in American film to enable an actor to build a body of worthwhile work. One can't but feel that his problems with material persist, and Hurlyburly feels like a return visit to a dry well. No one can do coked-out neurosis better than Penn, but something about his nerve-straining demeanour only serves to recall The Falcon and the Snowman. In the recriminatory dialogues that draw the film to a close, if not a conclusion, the patience of the audience is taxed outright. As journalist Alexander Cockburn once observed, "Southern California is comprised of too many people working too hard for too little, to support too many people consuming too much and doing absolutely nothing." If there is any reason why we should care for this latter group of lizard scum, Hurlyburly fails to divulge it.


Anthony Drazan
Anthony Drazan
Richard N. Gladstein
David S. Hamburger
David Rabe
Based on his own play
Director of Photography
Changwei Gu
Dylan Tichenor
Production Designer
Michael Haller
David Baerwald
Steve Lindsey
©Carol Drive Productions Inc
Production Company
Storm Entertainment presents a film by Anthony Drazan
Executive Producers
H. Michael Heuser
Frederick Zollo
Nicholas Paleologos
Carl Colpaert
FilmColony Production Executive
Lila Yacoub
Production Co-ordinator
Barbara Spitz
Unit Production Manager
Deborah Cass
Location Manager
Stephanie Pleet
Post-production Supervisor
Peter Mavromates
Assistant Directors
David Wechsler
Marco Londoner
Script Supervisor
Rebecca Long
David Rubin
Ronna Kress
Beau Bonneau
ADR Voice:
Barbara Harris
Creative Consultant
Don Phillips
Camera Operator
Michael Butler
Film Editor
Tatiana S. Riegel
Art Director
Derek Hill
Scenic Artist
Elizabeth Tullis
Storyboard Artists
Chuck Swenson
Andy Friend
Costume Designer
Mary Claire Hannan
Wardrobe Supervisor
Michael Nielsen
Key Make-up Artist
Kimberly Greene
Make-up Artists
Marta Camer
Denise Della Valle
Key Hairstylist
Barbara Olvera
Catherine Childers
Title Design
Brian King
Pacific Title/Mirage
Score Created by
The Palindrome Floating Band
Featured Vocalist:
Petra Haden
Eric Anest
Guitar/Keys/Electric Bass:
David Baerwald
Jim Cox
John Ferraro
David Goldblatt
Guitar/Lap Steel:
Smokey Hormel
Mark Isham
Kris Kellow
Upright Bass:
Larry Klein
Steve Lindsey
Mort Lindsey
Eric Persing
Electric Bass:
John Pierce
David Raven
David Torn
Waddy Wachtel
Valerie Pack
Music Supervisor
Amanda Scheer-Demme
Score Producer
Steve Lindsey
Music Editor
Bunny Andrews
Music Recordist/Mixer
Gabriel Veitri
"There Goes the Neighborhood" by Sheryl Crow, Jeff Trott, performed by Sheryl Crow, with Sheryl Crow (clarinet/percussion), , Gregg Williams (drums/programming/
percussion), Jeff Trott (guitars), Tim Smith (bass), Bobby Keys (baritone/tenor/alto sax), Michael Davis (trombone), Kent Smith (trumpet); music video for "Aldritch Sauce" by/performed by Red Aunts
Sound Mixer
Jeffrey S. Wexler
Supervising Re-recording Mixer
David Parker
Re-recording Mixer
Michael Semanick
Supervising Sound Editor
Michael Kirchberger
Dialogue Editors
David A. Cohen
Dianna Stirpe
Sound Effects Recordist
Hamilton Sterling
Sound Effects Editor
Jennifer Ware
Margie O'Malley
Marnie Moore
Steve Fontano
Frank Rinella
Stunt Co-ordinator
Rocky Capella
Film Extracts
Harold and Maude (1972)
The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt (1983)
Sean Penn
Kevin Spacey
Robin Wright Penn
Chazz Palminteri
Garry Shandling
Anna Paquin
Meg Ryan
Gianna Renaudo
David Fabrizio
stage manager
Kenny Vance
Michaline Babich
Elaine Correl
TV anchor
Sharon Tay
TV reporter
Frank Sommerville
TV anchor
Bob Jimenez
Piers MacKenzie
Arthur Neving
Penelope Allen
dry cleaner
Lisa Ristorucci
Igor Hiller
little Billy
Curt Skaggs
Nathalie Lake
Bud Cox
Peter Sitari
Laura Brownson
Metrodome Distribution Ltd
11.028 feet
122 minutes 33 seconds
Dolby digital
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011