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Auto Focus

Starring Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe and Rita Wilson; Maria Bello, Ron Leibman
Written by Michael Gerbosi
Based on the book "The Murder of Bob Crane" by Robert Graysmith
Directed by Paul Schrader

IN SHORT: A flat telling of the life and legendary death of a TV star. [Rated R. 104 minutes]

We've mentioned it before but it's fitting that we mention that we once had a career in the radio business, as did KNX Los Angeles one time radio host Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear). It's actually a shame that Crane gave up the radio waves for a career in television because, as our ex-radio engineer eyebrows lifted in amazement at the beginning of director Paul Schrader's Auto Focus, he did his broadcast without the benefit of a microphone. Pay close attention, folks, everyone else in this opening scene has got that little technological marvel but not our center of attention. That should have been fair warning of what was to come in this recreation of the life and death of the soon to be television star, but we know an intentional building of a star turn when we see it, and we don't like it.

If indeed, as some rabble rousers would have it, video corrupts the fragile human mind, you may wish to wait for the video of Paul Schrader's Auto Focus to see if this recreation of the life and death of actor Bob Crane does the deed. Considering how utterly scandalous and fit for the National Enquirer Crane's untimely end was, it's an astonishingly lifeless (so to speak) story on the big screen.

Crane starred in what was originally considered a [terribly conceived and insensitive] sitcom set in a German POW camp called Hogan's Heroes. That you probably don't think of the show as insensitive just goes to show how damned funny it was, unless of course you're sympathies lie with the Nazis, in which case you don't think this show (which made 'em all look like morons instead of vicious killers) was funny at all. If so, get lost.

In the real life depicted in this film, Crane is first seen as a straight as an arrow, devout Roman Catholic who attends church regularly with his devoted wife, Anne (Rita Wilson). Then came Hogan's Heroes, fame, and a random meeting with stereo enthusiast John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe) -- not the director, this man is a pal of actor Richard Dawson, and custom builds stereo equipment for the actor. He soon becomes fast friends with Crane, and introduces our hero to the wonders of strip bars and loose women. As time progresses, Carpenter's interest in electronics led to a deal promoting the first home video equipment. Crane, whose fascination with porn and free sex (we are talking late 1960s here), was fueled by fame and fortune, fell whole hog into the new technology. At home, it was a wonderful way to record his growing family. Not at home, it was a wonderful way to record his sexual conquests.

But nothing lasts in Hollywood. Wife number one is replaced by wife number two, Patricia (Maria Bello), the sole Heroes actress. The television show is cancelled and Crane's agent, Lennie (Ron Leibman) can't get him work. The downward spiral begins for the actor. We wish Kinnear's portrayal made us give a damn, 'cuz at this time of the year critics would be talking Oscar if it did. It didn't. Dafoe, on the other hand, creates a truly desperate and pathetic character. That's something we noticed.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Auto Focus, he would have paid . . .


Rent. We were greatly disappointed by Kinnear's performance but Dafoe's, as usual, is worth the price.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.