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By Omar P.L. Moore/January 23, 2009

Simon West as Malcolm and Hope Davis as Ellen in David Ondaatje's "The Lodger", which opened in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles today.  (Photo:  Samuel Goldwyn Films)

One is at a total loss to explain "The Lodger", a sleepy and bloodless exercise.  The drama, starring Alfred Molina as a troubled detective, is about a rash of murders of hookers in West Hollywood, California, where from the start blood trails make their presence felt.  Mr. Molina plays Chandler Manning, who is already under attack from a poorly-handled case under his watch, an innocent man being condemned as a result.  He has a chance at redemption and has a green partner in Shane West, who plays Street.  As the clues -- which point to a Jack The Ripper-like series of signature crimes -- and the bodies pile up, the race to solve the crimes gets more murky, as does David Ondaatje's film, which tries to string us along through as many red herrings as it can before fizzling unspectacularly in the final act.  Mr. Ondaatje also wrote the film, based on the 1913 book by the British author Marie Belloc Lowndes on which Alfred Hitchcock's 1927 film "The Lodger: The Story of The London Fog" was also based. 

The Lodger" replaces fog with rain as well as the shifted geography and tries to evoke the 1950's or more precisely the 1970's of "Taxi Driver" early on and employs needless stylistic flourishes: repeated time-lapses, expedited film frames and all manner of kinetics.  It's as if Mr. Ondaatje is trying out his camera for the first time, a kid in a candy store excited by the new toy that he is showing off.  The manipulation of style ruins any strength or cohesion that "The Lodger" has, which was little to begin with.  A sign of passionless filmmaking is a relentless camera trick or two designed to force an audience into submission to the ideas and atmosphere being conveyed.  Instead, we are removed even further.  Not only is "The Lodger" (which opened exclusively today at the Quad Cinema in New York City and at the Laemmle 5 in Los Angeles among other limited openings) over-directed, it is also incomplete as a credible thriller.  While it has its very few moments, it needed much more seasoning and life.  "The Lodger" has fun trying to evade its audience's suspicions, but toying with the viewer by using the devices the director uses here is little fun.

Believe it or not, there's a second story running through "The Lodger", that of the title character played by Simon Baker ("The Devil Wears Prada", "Something New" and TV's "The Mentalist") who plays a quiet but suspicious-looking man who lodges at the house of an even more mysterious landlady played by Hope Davis.  Ms. Davis looks forced in the role, although she gives it a half-hearted try.  Donal Logue ("Blade") plays her husband, who looks to be a prime suspect in the murders.  "The Lodger" has a very good ensemble of terrific actors, Mr. Molina and Philip Baker Hall, with the talents of Mr. Logue, Mr. West, Ms. Davis, Rachel Leigh Cook and Sela Ward ("The Fugitive") but under Mr. Ondaatje's tutelage you get the feeling that he didn't get out of them everything he should have.  Both stories separate and apart do not work to the audience's satisfaction.

In the final analysis "The Lodger" tries to be too many things ("Basic Instinct", "Psycho" and Bob Rafelson's 1981 film "The Postman Always Rings Twice") but ends up being as empty and hollow as the hole in a doughnut.  Only after the conclusion of the film's end credits do we know the identity of the architect of the reign of terror, something you could probably have guessed from the first 30 minutes.  This film is no "Dressed To Kill", Brian De Palma's early-1980's powerhouse psychodrama.

"The Lodger" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for violent content, language and brief nudity.  It is graphic, in fact sounds more graphic than its looks, if that makes sense.  Writhing bodies being gutted off screen.  Yuck.  The film is scheduled for a February banishment to DVD in North America.  The film's running time is one hour and 35 minutes.

Popcorn Reel Hot Minute Review On YouTube:   "The Lodger"


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