Ask the Dust

It took writer/director Robert Towne over three decades to get his adaptation of John Fante's novel Ask the Dust. He should have taken some more time. Towne (Without Limits, Tequila Sunrise) does a fantastic job with the setting - Los Angeles circa the 1930s is an idealized version of what everybody wishes it were, but the acting and story leave much to be desired. This is a story about a fiery relationship between two people looking for different things but drawn to each other, but degenerates into constant yelling. Colin Farrell (The New World, Alexander) is Arturo Bandini, a struggling novelist who moves to Los Angeles for inspiration, and Salma Hayek (After the Sunset, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) is Camilla, a poor Mexican waitress.

The two meet each other and feel an instant and strong mutual dislike. Remember, in the world of movies this means that at some point, the two will fall passionately in love.  Camilla serves Arturo some nasty looking coffee, which inspires him to sling some racial epithets at Camilla. The two develop one of the dullest love/hate relationships in recent film history. Part of this is because Farrell is not the right choice to play Bandini. The Bandini character is a bit naive, especially about his own writing ability. He wants to write the great American novel about Los Angeles, and wants a beautiful blonde to inspire him. Bandini is a bit on the whiny side, and having the hunky Farrell play him somehow does not sit right. Both are simply too glamorous to come off as credible.

The bulk of the movie finds Bandini trying unsuccessfully to look for inspiration.  He woos Camilla, and alternates between drawing her towards him and pushing her away.  Although he says he dislikes her, he also becomes intensely jealous when other men approach.  This may be fine for a movie, but Ask the Dust's primary problem is that the story and characters are boring.  Towne tried hard to create a sense of mood, but succeeded only in terms of the setting.  The characters are flat and wooden.  There is melodrama, but no drama.  There is no passion, either for each other or for writing.  There is no love, there is no emotion, no nothing.  Nobody cares if Bandini and Camilla will be successful as a couple, and nobody cares if Bandini finds the inspiration he needs to write a book.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 57 minutes, Rated R for some sexuality, nudity, and language.

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