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Black Dahlia, The (2006)

The Black Dahlia (click for larger image)Starring Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner

Directed by Brian DePalma

Distributed by Universal Pictures


Brian DePalma. He’s one of those directors who have earned lifelong immunity. Like Tobe Hooper, the man can crank out cinematic stinkers till the end of time, but his name on a poster will always raise eyebrows. This is the man who made Carrie, Scarface, and The Untouchables, after all. Every cinephile alive is waiting for him to make that big comeback.

Sadly, the wait goes on.

Now I’m not one to spout out “this isn’t a horror film” disclaimers (the genre’s range is vast), but this is a rare exception. The Black Dahlia is not horror in any shape, way, or form. It has no genre ties whatsoever, not even to the cross-over world of true crime. In fact, the film has about as much in common with the titular murder as Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam had with the actual killer. This is a purely fictitious detective-noir with overtones of L.A. Confidential, which is an appropriate comparison seeing as how it comes to us from James Elroy, the same novelist.

On its own merits, The Black Dahlia still fails to deliver an engaging story. There are at least three different films crammed together in the script, and DePalma handles the multiple story threads like a fire-juggling chimpanzee (which is to say, not very well). This is a film so bloated and convoluted that even giving a synopsis proves difficult, so here’s the gospel according to IMDB:

The Black Dahlia is set in 1940s Los Angeles. Two cops, Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and his partner, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), investigate the death of Elizabeth Short, a young woman found brutally murdered. Bucky soon realizes that his girlfriend had ties to the deceased, and soon after that, he begins uncovering corruption and conspiracy within the police department.

Or something like that. What we’re left with is an unfocused police procedural interspersed with love triangles and mob wars. It almost feels like an entire season of television edited down to a feature length film.

The cast strolls around like they’re local theatre actors in a bad period play. Hartnett is way too young to make a convincing hard-boiled detective, Eckhart randomly pops up to throw temper tantrums, and Johanasson turns in a performance so vapid, she might as well be a booty-dancing extra in a Fast and the Furious flick. The only positive comes with the introduction of Hillary Swank and her delightfully twisted family, which immediately makes one want to see a dysfunctional comedy solely based on their characters.

Chalk this up as another entry in the endless line of this year’s disappointments.

2 out of 5

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And for another point of view in full-color comic style, don’t miss
Rick Tremble’s take on the film in Motion Picture Purgatory!

Jon Condit

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