If there's one train wreck America is more than willing to forgive, it seems to be Charlie Sheen. After a very public meltdown a couple of years ago -- which culminated in his dismissal from the No. 1 sitcom on television and included a TV confession where he admitted that he was full of tiger blood -- he has had a remarkable rebound. This year, his FX series "Anger Management” begins a run of 90 new episodes, enough to push it into syndicated territory (and enough to keep Sheen rolling in tiger's blood for decades to come).
However, recent big-screen fame has eluded Sheen. He hasn’t been in a major film outside of his regular appearances in the "Scary Movie" franchise (he'll be back in "Scary Movie V" ) and, despite a brief cameo, was conspicuously absent from Oliver Stone's high-profile sequel "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." But he's back this week, in a dramatic role no less, as the title character in Roman Coppola's "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III." Here, he plays an alcoholic, misogynistic graphic designer in the ‘70s who spirals out of control after a particularly brutal break-up.
So Sheen is back. But is that a good thing?
PRO: It's a New Roman Coppola Movie…
Roman Coppola is an unsung member of the Coppola clan. After serving as a special effects technician on his father's film "Bram Stoker's Dracula,” he directed a number of music videos (including Daft Punk's "Burnin") and wrote and directed a wonderful feature called "CQ." Now, after co-writing two movies with Wes Anderson, he has returned to the director's chair. For the first few minutes of "Charlie Swan," I was happy to be able to watch a new film by Coppola. Unfortunately, like all highs, it soon wore off. Coppola is undoubtedly talented -- he has a knack for capturing intricate details of a certain time period (for "CQ" it was Euro-kitsch in the ‘60s; here it's gaudy Americana in the ‘70s) and has an offhanded way with visual effects that is truly amazing. Storytelling-wise, though, "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" leaves something to be desired.
CON: … That's Also Pretty Lousy
The chief problem of "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" is that we are trapped inside the mind of the Sheen character, who might be talented but is also a raging egomaniac, utterly narcissistic and totally incapable of feeling for other people (mostly women). It's like reading a note that consists of the ramblings of some high school kid who has been dumped and has no way of productively working through his feelings. "Well she's just a b*tch," is probably what a lot of that note would say, and it's a sentiment echoed time and time again in this film. It's clumsy and clunky, and while it's really fun to get a kick out of really nasty characters, Sheen's is beyond the pale, seemingly irredeemable in every respect, with Coppola's attempts at humanization coming across as half-hearted and inarticulate (his beloved parrot dies! Oh no!). At the end of the movie, you cannot wait to get out of Charles Swan III's head.
PRO: The Supporting Cast is Pretty Groovy
In addition to Sheen, the supporting cast of "Charles Swan" includes Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Aubrey Plaza and Dermot Mulroney. They all put in fine, workmanlike performances. There's also one genuine breakout amongst the cast: actress Katheryn Winnick. Winnick plays the woman who broke Charles Swan's heart (rightfully so). If anyone is able to suggest a semblance of emotional depth in this stylistic pile-on, it's her. She's brassy and smart and just wonderful; every scene she's in hums with energy and verve.
CON: There is Such a Thing as Too Much Stylization
Describing the movie, Coppola noted that, "there's a lot of fantasy sequences and crazy sh*t." And, indeed, "Charles Swan III" is chockablock with fantasy sequences and crazy sh*t. At first it’s powerful, freeing us up from the traditional confines of dramatic narrative to engage in flights of fancy, lovingly rendered in the most ‘70s-ish way possible. But then the style begins to get in the way of the storytelling, and by the end of the movie, a number of loose ends are tidied up in a way more suited to a primetime sitcom than the big time arty return of a distinct filmmaker. It’s disappointing, to say the least.
PRO: The Liam Hayes Songs
There are a bunch of new songs by Liam Hayes, a Chicago musician from the band Plus. These songs are really good and catchy and you'll probably be humming them after leaving the theater. In a way they suggest the movie that "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" could have been -- jazzy and unforgettable. If only.