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Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast:
Mark Wahlberg
Julianne Moore
Don Cheadle
Heather Graham
Burt Reynolds

Getting the "hype of the year" award is never an easy mantle to bear; one goes to "Boogie Nights" expecting no less than "GoodFellas" and crying foul at the first sign of a flaw. Truth told, this movie is an incredibly ambitious project, made even more so by the youth of director Paul Thomas Anderson. Only 27 and with only one other feature movie under his belt (the thought piece "Hard Eight" with Gwynneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson), Anderson gets kudos for keeping this beast afloat at all, let alone creating some awfully funny scenes.

But put simply, "Boogie Nights" is a half-hour afterschool special told over three hours and including a lot of breasts. Mark Wahlberg plays Dirk Diggler, a teen growing up in the morality-free San Fernando Valley in the late '70s, a boy possessing little more than dreams of fortune and a gargantuan phallus. A chance meeting with porn producer Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds, in his best sleaze yet) puts Diggler in the erotic film big time, falling in motherly love with Horner's wife Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) and carousing with Rollergirl (Heather Graham, whose nude scene will probably produce the same gasp that Uma Thurman's did in "Dangerous Liaisons").

Of course, fame in the early '80s meant a lot of drug use, and we get to watch as Dirk Diggler spirals into destitution. Drug use is a tremendous problem for filmmaking these days; drugs are such a heavy-duty metaphor for failure that the minute someone starts snorting, you can predict the next hour of screen time like clockwork. "Boogie Nights" is no exception here—Diggler's fall is just as predictable and hard to watch as any other, and the payoff is somewhat shallow and not all that satisfying.

Other cliches abound in Anderson's framework—the requisite "'70s crime fighter" sequence stolen from "Beavis and Butthead Do America" (which was in turn stolen from the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" video), and the tracking shots a la Scorcese. There's even a dash of Tarantino here, a drug theft scene that is totally incongruous with the rest of the movie. Anderson is obviously a smart feller—next time, he would be best served by leaving the "homages" in his hindbrain, and making a movie of his own.

—Ian Williams

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© Copyright 2002 Ian Williams