What in the name of...? Anthony Hopkins goes way, way, way off the deep end with Slipstream, a straight-outta-crazyland film written and directed by the actor in some sort of feverish attempt to mimic the work of former The Elephant Man collaborator David Lynch. It's Hopkins' very own Inland Empire, minus the inspiration and double the stylistic wackiness, with so many flash cuts, insert shots, freeze frames, rewinds, fast-forwards, color changes, perspective switches, discordant soundtrack noises and repeated scenes (featuring cast members in various roles) that it takes only a few short minutes for one's brain to start hurting from madness overload. And that isn't even a full list of all the tricks and gimmicks employed throughout this awe-inspiringly loony evisceration of Hollywood, the filmmaking process and - given its own awfulness - maybe art-house cinema as well. Who knows? To say Hopkins is going for something a tad more avant-garde than the standard fare in which he usually participates is to say that black is slighter darker than white. Slipstream is straight-up bonkers, a deliberately unintelligible and aesthetically insane head-trip into the fractured mind of its protagonist, screenwriter Felix Bonhoeffer (Hopkins).
To a degree greater than most theatrical releases, a narrative synopsis is basically impossible, as there's nary an instant in this fantasia that adheres to A-follows-B logic. To wit, the opening moments: quick snapshots of random faces; a horse race; a living room TV displaying the horse race, and Fionnula Flanagan talking on the phone about Felix while an annoyed Stella Arroyave stands in the background; the sound of steeds whinnying and cars crashing; Flanagan saying "Bette, dear" followed by a cut to a close-up film clip of Bette Davis; Flanagan saying something about Vegas, and the Caesar's Palace neon sign flashing across her face; the sight of Felix at the horse race with a blonde (Lisa Pepper), and then on a TV screen silently screaming; a bellowing John Turturro dressed in different outfits; and finally Felix at an outdoor Hollywood café with Pepper, who introduces him to a Russian waitress who's also an aspiring actress. And with that, we're off into the nonsensical stratosphere! The writer/director/star swirls together facts, locations and faces to the point of incomprehensibility, which is augmented by his refusal to let a single scene exist without ten edits, half of which must be employed in the service of subliminal imagery. Hitler? Check. Nixon? Of course. Vietnam? Sure, why not!
Hopkins likely wants his visual interjections to resonate both on a personal and political plane, but trying to make heads or tails of his intentions is as futile as trying to experience the film in conventional terms. There's an omnipresent feeling that Hopkins is straining mightily to break free from traditional filmic principles, and the mad-scientist gusto with which he goes after his "vision" is, admittedly, both sincere and rather admirable. Still, that hardly makes up for the fact that what he's crafted is basically a faux-profound junk-o-rama, a kaleidoscopic miasma devoid of any engaging element. A Corvette changes from yellow to blue to yellow again in a veritable nanosecond, a tarantula says "Hello," and a crow says "Have a nice day." Slipstream justifies its craziness by casting it as Felix's deathbed fever dream (or some such subconscious state of mind), and thus it isn't long before Alice in Wonderland allusions begin cropping up. As with virtually everything else, though, these gestures are so superficial as to make absolutely no impact.
A man stuck in L.A. freeway traffic leaps from his car and starts firing shots at Felix's dashboard while screaming "We've lost the plot!", which would be true if there had ever been a plot to begin with. And later, a script supervisor (Cameron Manheim) returns from the dead to lament the loss of continuity. Hardy har har. Alas, there's no substantive commentary or critique lurking beneath these narrative digressions and asides, or within the goofy camerawork and schizoid editing, that might justify such unfettered indulgence. After blabbering on and on about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Felix gives that film's star Kevin McCarthy a ride in his car. Dolly Parton shows up (while one of her songs plays in the background) and confesses that her name is "Dolly Parton Look-alike." John Turturro's movie producer rants and raves about hating writers, perhaps in an inside-joke reference to Barton Fink. And a coffee shop stick-up by Christian Slater and Jeffrey Tambor (the former in a wide-brimmed hat, the latter as a man named "Geek") is revealed to actually be a movie scene. It's all very obscure and out-there. But Slipstream isn't so much experimental meta cinema as it is a crummy facsimile of it.