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A crisply rendered, well calibrated rendition of the sleaze-ridden life and times – the period is 1964 through 1978 - of minor TV luminary Bob Crane. Famous for being the titular character of that biergarten/burgomeister/blitzkrieg sitcom HOGAN’S HEROES.

Director Paul Schrader’s AUTO-FOCUS, both ribald and rueful, entirely sideslips sensation for its own sake and moralizing other than the ‘moral’ regarding hedonism and promiscuity that is inherent to the story. Crane (Greg Kinnear) a nice guy’ if not the nicest of TV ‘heroes. ’ A former drummer and radio disk-jockey once famous, swiftly succumbed to his lickspittle celebrity status and to the wiles of callow, conniving womanizer-playboy John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), a crafty video-tape engineer/consultant to the Sony Corp - a man colder than the proverbial Kelsey’s nuts.

Schrader (AMERICAN GIGOLO, AFFLICTION) has already one really weird comedy-of-manners to his credit : TOUCH taken from Elmore Leonard’s only non-crime novel. Within the first succinct, brilliantly paced hour of AUTO-FOCUS the director captures a stunning show-biz Sixties-style in the shallowest end of the celebrity gene-pool. Schrader’s recreations of HOGAN’S HEROES are delicious and hilarious, especially a nightmare sequence featuring all the kitsch characters from this mellow mush-fest. Only a truly hollow horndog like Crane could have credibly basked in the glory of such banality.
In the final forty minutes Schrader subtly and literally darkens the sprightly mood of sexual insouciance – Crane and ‘Carpy’ tape their sexual antics with assorted ‘loose’ women whom they pick up in strip joints and Carpy shoots Crane doing the nasty doggy-style time and again and receiving hummers (blow-jobs) from these anonymous party girls, time and again. Thus the fallout from sheer hedonism gathers like a big black cloud preceding a thunderstorm. These pathetic cocksmen live simply to score notches on their ‘guns’ and to hell with the consequences for family,career and self-respect. In this respect Dylan Kidd’s ROGER DODGER is a ‘sequel’ to AUTO-FOCUS another critique of "boys will be boys" and "men just want to have fun".

The Canadian reviews in the dailies today are as pathetic as the movie chooses to be since the alleged ‘reviewers’ who trot out their truisms every Friday misdiagnose an airy film about airheads as a symptom of a disease when AUTO-FOCUS is a remedy for the illness. Talk about superficial ,eh?

© Alex Grant November 8th 2002

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