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NOIR IS BACK, BUT BASIC, IN `BLACK'.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

With its sadistic violence, ritualistic mutilations, lesbian shindigs, freaky fetishes and peeping porn, who better to direct the menacing murder-mystery ``The Black Dahlia'' than Brian De Palma? But what on paper seems to be the perfect marriage of maker and material turns out to be a bust in its finished form, a stagnant movie that revisits the ghosts of Los Angeles noir past without adding much to the canon.

``Dahlia'' comes from James Ellroy's overheated novel of the same name, which dealt with the 1947 murder of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, an aspiring actress found sawed in half and disemboweled. Ellroy, of course, also wrote ``L.A. Confidential,'' but in adapting that book, screenwriter Brian Helgeland and director Curtis Hanson took a scythe to Ellroy's endless plottings, leaving the wheat, dispensing with the chaff. With ``Dahlia,'' writer Josh Friedman employs no such discretion, resulting in a tedium that De Palma's fitful visual flourishes cannot overcome.

There are plenty of things in ``Dahlia'' that its characters can't surmount -- LAPD Detective Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) owns a horrible past that makes him violently flip out any time something bad happens to a woman. His partner, Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett), has, like Blanchard, a prizefighter past, but the similarities end there.

Bucky's an innocent about to get dirt on his hands.

The women -- Blanchard's girlfriend, Kay (a too-young Scarlett Johansson playing dress-up), the lecherous seductress Madeleine (Hilary Swank) and, of course, the Dahlia herself, Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) -- are grist for the Dream Factory. Like ``Hollywoodland,'' ``The Black Dahlia'' spends more time ruminating over Los Angeles as a depository of broken dreams than it does police procedurals. But ``Hollywoodland'' did so with more feeling and intelligence.

The actors, mostly miscast or substandard (B-listers Eckhart and Hartnett couldn't get work holding the fedoras of Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce), often seem to be working in different movies. Nowhere is this more apparent than the scene where Bucky goes to Madeleine's home for dinner with her monied family, and Fiona Shaw, playing the grotesque mother, stumbles around doing her best imitation of Gloria Swanson in ``Sunset Boulevard.''

De Palma does a fair amount of foreshadowing, using a host of references that will delight film theorists (the silent horror flick ``The Man Who Laughs'' being the most prominent) and leave everyone else puzzled or bored. For all of the movie's over-the-top scenarios -- the slashings, the spectacular death scenes, the lesbian nightclub number with k.d. lang making like Marlene Dietrich -- ``The Black Dahlia'' is curiously uninvolving, its endless complications and excesses failing to engage even De Palma's baser instincts.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672.

glenn.whipp(at)dailynews.com

THE BLACK DAHLIA - Two stars

(R: strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and language)

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank.

Director: Brian De Palma.

Running time: 2 hrs.

Playing: In wide release.

In a nutshell: Even De Palma's trademark excesses fail to engage.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Hilary Swank is the seductive Madeleine in Brian De Palma's ``The Black Dahlia,'' chronicling an unsolved L.A. murder.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 15, 2006
Words:516
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