Hugo Pool (1997)
Directed by Robert Downey Sr.
Written by Robert Downey Sr., Laura Ernst
Produced by Barbara Ligeti, Douglas Berquist, Ralph Cooper, Michael Frislev, Iren Koster, Lawrence Steven Meyers, Chad Oakes
Starring Alyssa Milano, Patrick Dempsey, Cathy Moriarty, Malcolm McDowell, Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr., Richard Lewis
Parallel to the majority of works generated in nearly any other medium, most cinematic endeavors are terrible, commonly created and produced by corporate studios, ambitious peripheral firms and independent upstarts in dizzying haste without cogitation or scrutiny of the sort that any development of quality art or entertainment demands. Their successes largely incident to operative distribution targeting reliable demographics, most of these pictures are soon forgotten, if at all seen. A relative few implode with spectacularity sufficient to prompt avowals of their inferiority from even the most venal mainstream critics. Adequately overproduced and geared to satisfy the saccharine proletarian palate, a greater modicum receive amplified acclamation and accolades to the repugnance of legitimate cineastes. Only once or twice each decade does a filmmaker of a developed nation produce a movie of such staggering, singular and unaccountable flagrance that it prepossesses intellect and esthesia alike with all the fascination of a true phenomenon. Downey scripted his penultimate picture with spouse Laura Ernst to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but it’s so astonishingly abominable that audiences are more likely to contemplate how a director (whose few hits are more attributable to opportunism than talent) could contrive anything so abysmal than the malady itself. Players of proven proficiency are invariably degraded when interpreting Downey’s outlandishly tacky screenplay at his awkward direction: salaciously ogled by Downey’s camera in a movie dedicated to his dead wife, Milano crankily overacts her every line, sauntering with a gait reminiscent of Daffy Duck’s as a diabetic pool cleaner who’s nearly as irritating as her parents: a whorish gambling addict (Moriarty) and recovering junkie (McDowell, wretchedly impersonating Jimmy Durante) who blathers irksome slogans. The latter’s paired with an effeminate, autistic half-wit (Penn, still addled) appareled in girls’ pumps to their mutual captivation. Gaunt in the throes of heroin addiction before his father’s camera, Junior’s not a jot more tolerable than his co-stars as a flamboyant eurotrash feature director. Dempsey shouldn’t be so miffing as a wealthy playboy immobilized by ALS, but Downey resolves that improbability with overabundant close-ups of his stupid grin. Whenever hope seems to renew during a span of silence, it’s neutralized by goggling Lewis, ineptly mimicking Al Pacino as a mob boss. How did a man whose experience as a director of major motion pictures exceeding forty years shoot something so amateurishly? Sloppy wide shots and close-ups rotate jarringly, a merciful scarcity of pans are clumsily implemented, and every single portrayal plays out like a failed rehearsal, struggling to coax some hint of humor from an offensively unfunny story wherein all characters are imparted quirks to no comedic result and the inertia of Gehrig’s disease is occasionally exploited for amusement, all rudely overscored by Danilo PĂ©rez’s horribly niminy-piminy jazz and pseudo-Salsa. This is schlock of a sort one expects from a screenwriter’s directorial foray, not a pet project helmed by an industry veteran. As either a commemoration of the deceased or PSA concerning ALS, this despicably tasteless and tiresome fiasco could only arise from supreme complacence.

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