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There’s truth behind ‘Hoax’ 

And ‘Grindhouse’ is exploitastic.

GERE: At his best in "Hoax."
  • GERE: At his best in "Hoax."

If there’s one thing you learn very quickly being a reporter — other than where the coffeemaker is and the best place to buy a cheeseburger — it’s that nobody can lie like a desperate man. Butcher, baker or candlestick maker, a man in trouble can get downright artful with his lies. Worse, if he’s half smart, he’ll make you believe them.

 

A mix of desperation and artful lies is the roux that helps make “The Hoax” such an interesting film. A movie about how far a person will go for success — not even success: respect — it delivers a fine-pointed message on the very real mental dangers awaiting those who monkey with the truth.

 

Based on a true story, “The Hoax” is the tale of Clifford Irving (Richard Gere, in what might be his best performance in a decade), a mid-list author whose novel just went down in flames at New York publisher McGraw Hill. Desperate to keep his foot in the door, Irving and his researcher, Dick Susskind (Alfred Molina), spend days racking their brains, trying to come up with the next non-fiction blockbuster. Finally, in a fit of desperation, Irving hits on a seemingly impossible scheme: Fake the autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, who hasn’t spoken to the press in 15 years.

 

Soon, he and Susskind have convinced themselves that it will work. Hughes has recently been hit with a $150 million judgment by former shareholders of his airline, TWA. Hughes won’t show his face in public for fear of being served with a subpoena, they reason, and if he does, his protests against the book will simply be taken as the ravings of a lunatic. With a series of letters forged in Hughes’ hand, Dick and Irving have soon landed a million-dollar advance on the book. As they rush toward its completion, hounded by shadowy Hughes agents, their friendship — and eventually their sanity — begins to crumble.

 

Funny at times, frightening at others, “The Hoax” turns out to be a fine example of film, tracking both a thriller’s switchbacks and a tragedy’s heroic arc. Best of all is Gere’s careful depiction of Irving’s slow descent into the which-way-is-up world that all prodigious liars soon find themselves in. After awhile his lies even make the jump to the screen, so that the audience is left not knowing if the things they are seeing are real or just more of the lies Irving has told to keep himself sane. Though the Hughes character never makes a screen appearance, his paranoia and sense of conspiracy infect the main characters like a disease. The result is very watchable film -– a slow-motion train wreck, involving characters you’ve come to like if not quite love.

 

— David Koon

 

 

 

I find that the ideal way to sum up a movie review in 10 words or less does not involve counting stars or pointing one’s thumb in various directions.

 

It’s best accomplished using a simple formulation. To wit: “This film [is/is not] for the lover of _______.”

 

Filling in that blank is of course the difficult part. That’s where the art comes in. Though when it comes to the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino exploitation double-feature “Grindhouse,” it’s as easy as mowing down zombies with your mom’s weed whacker. Because this film is for the lover of unmarred awesomeness.

 

Eloquent? No. But I bet you know exactly what I mean.

 

As to plot details, you already know everything you need to know from the trailer. Feature one, “Planet Terror”: Hot-panted Rose McGowan gets her leg ripped off by zombies and then goes after them with a prosthetic that doubles as a machine gun and rocket launcher. Feature two, “Death Proof”: Trapped-in-the-’70s stuntman Kurt Russell terrorizes women in a “death proof” stunt car.

 

You already know this. And you already know whether it sounds good to you. The only question remaining is whether the film lives up to its promise, and the answer is a pus-splattered, undead redneck hee-hawin’ YES. This movie is awesomeness wrapped in bacon and duct-taped to the roof of a ’68 Plymouth Roadrunner that’s been lit on fire and driven Thelma-and-Louise-style off the edge of a cliff only to land by coincidence on Hitler and Darth Vader — only they survive the crash and go on to play quadriplegic wheelchair rugby, and they get their asses kicked by that guy from “Murderball.”

 

The movie has its downbeats, too. Tarantino’s movie is full of ... whaddyacallit ...“talking.” You get the sense that it’s done to give you a chance to breathe after Rodriguez’s big bang, but it does drag the film down a bit in the beginning. You know the dialogue I’m talking about very well if you’re a fan of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction,” only here it’s not quite as interesting and leaves you waiting a little impatiently to see what you paid to see. But don’t worry, the payoff’s definitely worth the wait.

 

Before and between the films you’ll be treated to fake trailers for other grindhouse films that would be worth making in their own right, directed by splatter masters like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie. My favorite, “Werewolf Women of the S.S.,” had ... well, you just need to see it for yourself. Suffice it to say that werewolves + boobs + Nazis = never-ending fun.

 

Perhaps most surprising is the directors’ ability to make two movies that spew testosterone out of every orifice and yet manage to avoid being either misogynistic or homophobic. In fact, “Grindhouse” is one very woman-positive (though blissfully unpreachy) film, the sort of pro-feminism that more action filmmakers should be cranking out if only because it allows me to enjoy nudity and violence without any residual guilt.

 

Yes, dear readers, this film is for the lover of unmarred awesomeness. It is not a film for the faint of heart or the lover of small furry woodland creatures. Unless you want to see those critters mutate and go on a three-state killing spree.

 

— Matthew Reed  

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