The carefree and glamorous existence of a Los Angeles graphic designer is thrown for more than a loop when the long-legged love of his life leaves him in “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III.” This sophomore writing-directing effort from Roman Coppola (“CQ”) shares some of its oddball DNA and a few actors with Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” which Coppola co-wrote, though “Swan” lacks those films’ fastidious design and storytelling, and there’s no emotional undertow to speak of. The cast, headed by an in-form, post-meltdown Charlie Sheen, should help attract at least a few curious ticketbuyers.
“Swan” is more of a doodle than a fully formed idea, though not necessarily less enjoyable for it, since it was clearly intended to be an undisciplined, anything-goes kinda story. It begins with a literal look at the contents of the brain of the titular protagonist (Sheen), shown onscreen in 1970s-style animated collage (he’s a graphic designer with a clear love for advertising and the look of the period). Unsurprisingly, a large part of Charlie’s gray matter is dedicated to women and sex, which is why he’s so troubled by the fact that his true love, blonde bombshell Ivana (Katheryn Winnick), has left him.
When the devastated Charlie tries to get rid of a bag of shoes Ivana’s left behind, a chuckle-inducing if hardly uproarious chain of events follows, ending with his vintage car in a record producer’s swimming pool. This sequence is supposedly set in waking reality, but the pic frequently switches to what could be described as dreams (or nightmares) that populate the character’s subconscious, such as when Charlie rises from the grave to do some ballroom dancing with the women in his life, and goes on to win a “best bullshit award” from the Academy of Sexy Women. (Parallels to Sheen’s own life aren’t necessarily intentional, but they’re there for the taking.)
Trying to help Charlie get his life in order are his best bud, Kirby (Jason Schwartzman), a comic with a Jewfro; his spare-tire-carrying business manager, Saul (Bill Murray); and his hippie-ish novelist sister, Izzy (Patricia Arquette). They also appear in his subconscious in various roles; Murray is especially strong as a John Wayne-style cowboy daring Charlie to face a horde of bikini-clad Indians headed by Ivana, and in an inspired sequence that describes a secret organization of ball-busting women, with Murray leading the charge against them.
Coppola’s screenplay thus jumps from one idea to the other, and while quite a few of them are amusing, what’s missing in most scenes is a sense of purpose beyond potentially scoring a few giggles. The stories in Charlie’s subconscious don’t seem to advance or illuminate the real-life narrative that much, to the detriment of audience investment in the characters or overall story. Whereas Anderson’s best films slowly reveal a touching emotional core beneath their painstakingly constructed exteriors, Coppola fails to include such a heart here, though Sheen is certainly convincing as both the suave dream man and the clueless real Charlie. Supporting thesps are all solid but likewise boxed in by the screenplay’s limitations.
Liam Hayes’ atmospheric songs and score further consolidate the ’70s/early ’80s vibe already suggested by the work of production designer Elliot Hostetter and costume designer April Napier, whose mixed-material approach clearly conveys Coppola’s ideas about the dual nature of Los Angeles and its inhabitants. Nick Beal’s lensing on the Arri Alexa, the lenses used by Francis Ford Coppola on “Rumble Fish,” adds another period touch.