A review of “Ask the Dust” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *

Rating: R for language, nudity and adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

 

 

Robert Towne’s moldy ode to Depression-era Los Angeles (based on the John Fante masterpiece) is a lifeless and implausible exercise in romantic futility.

          Steamy womanizer Colin Farrell plays struggling novelist Arturo Bandini, the moody son of Italian immigrants who is “ignorant of women and life and afraid of both”. It just doesn’t fly.

          Arturo pecks away at his novel and his dwindling rent money while dreaming of fame, fortune and beautiful blondes. When they fail to materialize he falls for lusty Mexican waitress Camilla Lopez (Salma Hayek), who longs to marry above her station and shed her trashy roots for good.

          The bad writer buried in Bunker Hill and the hot tamale wannabe dance a sizzling pas-de-deux that has all the heat of a snow cone. Their inexplicably stilted chemistry is echoed in the story; a curious mix of the-flip-side-of-love-is-hate scenarios whose sexual suspensions and ethnic slurs put Oscar-winning “Crash” to shame.

          Forced to forget Camilla (while I’m hard-pressed to understand why he doesn’t cut to the chase and bed her) Bandini hooks up with a strange but compelling stranger (Idina Menzel) who may be familiar from a distant fever dream. Said stranger is sadly disfigured but that doesn’t stop Bandini from finally making his move. A tête-à-tête that predictably ends in tragedy.

          Farrell generally packs cinematic heat but even his Irish cha-cha-cha can’t overcome a minimalist melodrama that’s badly frayed at the seams and threatening to unravel. 1930s clichés butt up against subtle suggestions of depression and drugs and the decaying romance of literary noir. Only the conceptual broken dreams of Fante’s autobiographical novel are awash in sentimental sepia-sunshine.