A low-fi, star-high riff on filmmaking and reality, Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal bombed in the US, leading to a much-delayed UK bow. Now sneaking out in the slipstream of Solaris, which was shot after Frontal, it's not so much of a misstep by the auteur as a conscious shuffle backwards, to his years of indie oblivion (Kafka, The Underneath, Schizopolis).
Billed as a thematic sequel to his Cannes-conquering 1989 triumph Sex, Lies and Videotape, it was shot on DV with a frugal $2-million budget in a mere 18 days. Perhaps it's because these restraints were self-imposed that the result was so blasted in America. How dare a newly crowned Hollywood king abdicate his throne so quickly and take Julia Roberts with him!
She plays Francesca, an actress playing a journalist playing games with Nicholas - - who is, in reality, Calvin (Blair Underwood) - - in the thriller Rendezvous. Confused? You will be. This is one of those movies-about-the-movies, a movie-within-the-movie movie. The Who's Who?/What's What? issue is further mixed up when Francesca falls for a crew member. Is Roberts, on top of everything, really playing herself?
Whatever. Her story is just one strand in a narrative rope that includes David Hyde Pierce's writer, Catherine Keener's career girl, her masseuse sister Mary McCormack and, in turn, her client David Duchovny. Oh, and a stage show of a travesty called The Sound And The Führer - starring Nicky Katt's self-obsessed actor (is there any other kind?).
Chances are, you're scratching your head. Get used to it. There's much to ponder in this tricksy caper. Not least, whether any of it matters. It's funny and daring and confusing, leaving the viewer with the feeling that you have to admire what it's trying to achieve - - even if you have no real idea what it's trying to achieve. Hmm... Can we have Ocean's Twelve now please?
Profound but silly, Steven Soderbergh's throwaway digi-comedy promises much, but amounts to little. Sly laughs mingle with sighs in a picture that both irritates and enthrals.