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Hollywood Hells

Ask David Lynch, and he will tell you apple-pie America just isn't what it seems. People behave strangely, sometimes violently, and sometimes they even transform into different people without being polite enough to warn you first. Eerie and freaky, shot through with sporadic bursts of humor and sex, Mulholland Drive is a loose, choppy effort that's likely to confound general audiences while pleasing die-hard fans.

Things start out promising enough, with some jarring sock-hop title imagery leading to a moody nocturnal swing along the eponymous thoroughfare high above Hollywood. Long-time Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti sets the morose tone as a mysterious and beautiful woman (Laura Elena Harring) narrowly escapes death in her limousine and stumbles down the mountain in shock toward some rather questionable goings-on.

Meanwhile, a chipper young woman named Betty (Naomi Watts) arrives in town from purer lands, anxious to make her mark as an actress. Looking forward to the comfort of a chic, retro apartment while her generous aunt is out of town, Betty is surprised to find the aforementioned mystery woman naked in the shower. Stealing her name from a poster of Rita Hayworth, the enigmatic bather makes known her amnesia and reveals a hot-and-botheredness that leads us to wonder how soon the two will engage in sexy shenanigans. The answer: soon enough, twice, and friends, it's worth the price of admission.

Playing like comfort food for the faithful, Mulholland Drive is Lynch at his most predictable and inscrutable. The movie isn't as consistent as the director's heavy hitters, such as Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me or Lost Highway, but it includes great moments of dark delirium reminiscent of those films. Likewise, thanks to cameos from Robert Forster and Dan Hedaya, the project boasts dry, laconic humor to spark fond memories of Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart.

Since Lynch's modus operandi seems to be to turn our worlds upside down, perceiving his work as a series of big, bizarre home movies only adds to the fun. But like a flip through the sketchbooks of a revered artist, Mulholland Drive reveals too many scribbles to inspire awe, and at its worst it feels like an L.A.-obsessed outtake reel from The End of Violence. However, a little patience makes a world of difference, rendering Lynch's explicit portrait of Betty all the more engrossing and revelatory. Like many dreamers in Hollywood, she's just playing with herself. And crying.

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Gregory Weinkauf

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