"Where the Truth Lies" is an unconvincing <I>film a clef</I> about the sordid truth behind the breakup of a celebrated Hollywood performing team. Atom Egoyan's most mainstream and genre-oriented picture applies a thick noir lacquer to a jumbled, time-jumping tale of a young female journalist prying the facts out of the aging entertainers and their cronies.

“Where the Truth Lies” is an unconvincing film a clef about the sordid truth behind the breakup of a celebrated Hollywood performing team. Atom Egoyan’s most mainstream and genre-oriented picture in his 20-year career applies a thick noir lacquer to a jumbled, time-jumping tale of a young female journalist prying the facts out of the aging entertainers and their cronies. Lacking strong critical backing, this ungainly picture faces a dicey commercial future.

Principally by changing the straight man in the act to a Brit, Egoyan has tried to reduce the similarities between the film, TV and nightclub stars here and a certain Italian-American crooner and his madcap Jewish partner that served as the obvious inspirations for Rupert Holmes’ 2004 novel.

Be that as it may, it’s the allure of seeing the curtain lifted on the “real” inside story of a famous act that gives pic its initial interest. Ironically, the ultimate revelation of the denouement is actually more plausible than the way in which most of what comes before is presented.

On perhaps the most fundamental level, longtime arthouse fave Egoyan lacks the sort of innate pizzazz to sock over a sense of ’50s showbiz at its slickly entertaining apex. The audience is asked to accept the talent and popularity of the outrageous Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and his more elegant partner Vince Collins (Colin Firth) by inference, as there’s only a half-hearted attempt to fully recreate the ambiance and impact of a club act of the era (something quite skillfully pulled off by Kevin Spacey in “Beyond the Sea,” for all the criticism it received).

Propelling the narrative is the intent of author Karen O’Connor (Alison Lohman) to finally deliver the unknown reason why Lanny and Vince abruptly split up at the height of their careers 15 years before. Rupture dates to the day when the naked body of a beautiful young woman was found in the bathtub of the entertainers’ hotel suite, although the death was attributed to an overdose and no culpability was ever attached to the showmen.

Brief snippets of the pair’s heyday reveals Vince to possess a scary violent side (he beats an audience member senseless over an anti-Semitic remark) and Lanny to be a full-time leech for whom efficient valet Reuben (David Hayman) procures girls from audiences, not to mention hot and cold-running room service cuties.

As Lanny later confesses to Karen in one of the script’s better lines, “Having to be a nice guy is the toughest thing in the world if you’re not.”

Skipping back and forth through time in a manner more strenuous than edifying, pic attempts to assemble an intriguing portrait of intrepid reporter Karen, but while her relationship with her subjects begins by seeming complex, it ends up as murky, harsh and unsympathetic. A lifelong fan for reasons that are partly personal, Karen brandishes her million-dollar book contract like a search warrant, as if it entitled her free access to every last shred of personal history, although Vince has a financial motive as well.

After an amusing scene that makes excellent use of an archaic first class seating arrangement on Pan Am to facilitate a meeting between the two, Karen allows herself to be seduced by Lanny, only to be quickly spurned. But even more unsavory — sexually and otherwise — is her relationship with the testy Vince, who by 1972 has withdrawn to a glass Hollywood Hills home, where he envelopes Karen with his depraved mindset while she confrontationally attempts to land biographical pay dirt.

Fractured narrative devices are further encumbered by multiple narration sources, incidental characters who function as mere devices and uncertain time frames.

More bothersome still is the stiff, on-topic nature of most of the film; with Karen in full interrogation mode nearly all the time, scenes and characters are rarely allowed to breathe and develop of their own accord. Since Karen, for related reasons, never shows real vulnerability or humanity, she comes off as unnatural hard and pushy, a problem unrelieved by Lohman’s performance, which reveals nothing beneath the surface or between the lines.

Bacon and Firth both prove more than adept at conveying their characters’ seamy sides, which at least lends weight to the distasteful revelations in which the story is rooted, and are reasonably effective overall in cutting the desired profiles of glib entertainers taking full advantage of fame’s perks.

Supporting turns tend toward overdrawn caricatures, although David Hayman, when not forced to erupt into overt explanations late-on, makes for a creepy presence as Lanny’s all-purpose fixer.

Period detail is uneven — strangely, more so in the ’70s material than in the ’50s — and production design doesn’t always feel like the real thing. Paul Sarossy’s soft, sometimes dreamy lensing clashes with composer Mychael Danna’s exhaustive efforts to replicate the sound of hardboiled Hollywood melodramas.

Where The Truth Lies

Canada-U.K.

Production

A THINKfilm release (in Canada) of a Serendipity Point Films presentation in association with First Choice Films and the Movie Network, in association with Telefilm Canada, Movie Central and Ego Film Arts of a Robert Lantos production. (International sales: Summit Entertainment, Santa Monica.) Produced by Lantos. Executive producers, Atom Egoyan, Colin Leventhal, Daniel J.B. Taylor, Donald A. Star. Co-producers, Chris Chrisafis, Sandra Cunningham. Directed, written by Atom Egoyan, based on the novel by Rupert Holmes.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Paul Sarossy; editor, Susan Shipton; music, Mychael Danna; music supervisor, Liz Gallacher; production designer, Phillip Barker; art directors, Craig Lathrop, Lucy Richardson; set designer, Pat Flood; set decorators, Cal Loucks, Trisha Edwards; costume designer, Beth Pasternak; sound (Dolby Digital), Chris Munro; sound designer, Steven Munro; supervising re-recording mixer, Daniel Pellerin; associate producers, Mark Musselman, Julia Rosenberg; assistant director, David J. Webb; casting, Mali Finn, John Buchan, Leo Davis. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 13, 2005. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Lanny Morris - Kevin Bacon Vince Collins - Colin Firth Karen O'Connor - Alison Lohman Maureen O'Flaherty - Rachel Blanchard Reuben - David Hayman Sally Sanmarco - Maury Chaykin Alice - Kristin Adams Bonnie - Sonja Bennett Mrs. O'Flaherty - Deborah Grover Jack Scaglia - Beau Starr

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