A feature prequel to the celebrated but short-lived television series, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” is like an R-rated episode of the show that embodies both the pros and cons of the intriguingly offbeat program. A detailing of the final week in the life of the quasi-legendary Laura Palmer, with plenty of digressions and artistic doodlings, as well as the occasional striking sequence, pic will inevitably attract die-hard fans, but will be too weird and not very meaningful to general audiences. Ultimately, this feels like David Lynch treading water before moving on to new terrain.
Anyone with a passing interest in American culture of the last couple of years knows the phrase, “Who killed Laura Palmer?,” a question promulgated by the discovery of her body in the superb two-hour pilot telefilm, and the answer to which was sidestepped for far too long, to the detriment of the series.
Almost equally familiar is the knowledge that Dad did it. Despite an abundance of fishy activity by teenagers and powers-that-be in the small Washington State community and a lot of pseudo-psychic hocus-pocus involving Kyle MacLachlan’s special agent Dale Cooper, the root of Laura’s problems were to be found at home.
After a strikingly amusing opening image involving the destruction of a TV set, pic launches into what is essentially a 33-minute prologue detailing the FBI’s investigation of the Portland murder of a woman named Teresa Banks.
Bureau’s look-see is orchestrated by a shouting, hard-of-hearing supervisor played by the director himself. The section is filled with many series trademarks–insolent small-town police, a tiny piece of paper under a fingernail , an intense interest in coffee, difficult-to-understand dwarfs–as well as odd and extremely brief cameo turns by the likes of David Bowie, as a weird apparition, and Harry Dean Stanton, as a trailer park denizen. And there’s Agent Cooper’s prediction that the killer will strike again.
Cued by the first appearance of Angelo Badalamenti’s famous, mood-setting theme music, action then cuts to one year later in Twin Peaks, where Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) prepares for school by snorting some coke. Events that follow, in the expected dreamlike, sometimes captivating, occasionally enervating Lynchian style, center on Laura’s downward spiral of drug use, promiscuity and crime. It all leads up to the moment of her killing, which leaves things off where they started on TV.
Clearly, there is no suspense involved in this story with a preordained outcome. Another significant drawback is that Laura Palmer, after all the talk, is not a very interesting or compelling character and long before the climax has become a tiresome teenager.
Almost everything she does is of a misguided, self-destructive nature, and she scarcely knows what to do with her odd moments of telepathic insight or desire that her best friend Donna (Moira Kelly; instead of the series’ Lara Flynn Boyle) not share her dismal fate.
Because no crime has yet been committed in the community, there is no police or FBI investigation going on here, and hence no opportunities for interaction between the authorities and the many diverse characters offered in the series, or development of relationships that came later. Many of the show’s familiar performers (Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn, Richard Beymer and Joan Chen just for starters) aren’t on view here, while others, including Peggy Lipton and Madchen Amick, materialize so briefly as to be pointless. Singer Julee Cruise turns up briefly for one musical interlude.
Still, the film has its share of unique conceptual sequences. The first, in the prologue, involves a demonstration of the acute powers of observation that a Lynchian federal investigator is expected to possess. Others most pointedly include two very debauched visits to a club across the Canadian border that feature levels of raunch to rival “Blue Velvet” and “Wild at Heart” and depict activities unthinkable on network tv.
Performances are solid but unremarkable across the board, and craft contributions are very attractively similar to what was accomplished on the small screen.
Film remains engagingly intriguing throughout most of its slightly overlong running time, and perhaps the strangely mesmerizing mood Lynch has orchestrated for the entire “Twin Peaks” undertaking should not be underestimated at this juncture. But the feeling persists that, to a considerable degree, Lynch is marking time with this project, creating new riffs and variations on themes he had already largely worked out.