Ask the Dust

I have a few questions I’d like to ask the dust, among them: why was this movie so boring, and why, when both are considered by many to be two of the sexiest stars around, couldn’t Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek muster even the teeniest amount of onscreen chemistry?

Genre(s): Drama, Romance

Director: Robert Towne

Actors: Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Donald Sutherland, Idina Menzel

Year: 2006

MPAA Rating: R

Country: USA

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I’d be willing to bet the dust doesn’t have any answers for me, but that’s okay because – just like dust! – the memory of this tedious film will be swept from my mind quickly and without incident.

Robert Towne directs this big-screen adaptation of John Fante’s novel, which is set in Depression-era Los Angeles and follows the efforts of aspiring writer Arturo Bandini (Farrell) as he attempts to write something and get his work published. He lives in a boarding house alongside a creepy neighbor (Donald Sutherland), subsists on oranges and coffee, and prays to Saint Theresa for inspiration. Enter Camilla (Hayek), a Mexican waitress at the diner down the street, with whom Arturo begins a weird, inexplicable and often confusing (for the audience) courtship. They trade insults, behave rudely, seem to despise one another… then, moments later, bat their eyelashes and act as though they’re each fighting the urge to mount the other with every fibre of their beings. Then they go back to the hostility. Then amour. And so on. This back-and-forth love/hate thing became tiresome very quickly.

The romance (?) between the two characters forms the crux of the story, but periphery characters float in and out to add spice to Arturo’s life/writing, including Vera (Idina Menzel), whose burn scars force her to seek out affection in unconventional ways, and Sammy (Justin Kirk), the bartender at Camilla’s restaurant, whose motivations are never quite clear but who nonetheless seems like an abusive ass. Or a repressed gay man. Or neither. Again, confusing and needlessly distracting.

The film plods along at a snail’s pace, mistakenly believing that the audience will sit enraptured as Arturo clicks away on his typewriter and narrates what we’ve just seen or what we’re about to see onscreen. His relationship with Camilla is never believable, due in large part to the aforementioned chemistry deficit, and both Farrell and Hayek seem awfully wooden from time to time. It’s never really explained what each character sees in the other, or why they should be together in the first place. Hayek, in interviews to promote the film, is heralding it as a portrait of an oft-ignored portion of the population: the unseen women whose presence inspired great men. *yawn* Yeah, I didn’t get that.

About halfway into the film, one of the story’s characters develops The Cough. You know The Cough: it’s that lame, clichéd cinematic device that signals doom for the person doing the coughing. It’s the tell-tale symptom – about as subtle as a flashing neon sign that says “Dead character walking!” –  of an impending death, likely before the closing credits. Well, it didn’t come soon enough, as far as I was concerned, and the fact that I was snickering while the tearful farewell played out should be an indication of how not invested in the story I was. But at least I wasn’t as obviously bored as the guy sitting in front of me: he spent almost the entire film randomly checking his email and sending messages (likely, pleas for help) on his Blackberry.

Colin? Salma? Neither of these are good signs for you film. Sorry.

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