Set in a seedy Hollywood where the dreams of an would-be actress collide with the violent schemes of the underworld, Michael Chrisoulakis’ “Los Angeles Overnight” offers a variation on “Mulholland Drive,” minus the sexuality, the structural gamesmanship, and most of the style and wit. Turns out there’s only one director who can pull off “Lynchian,” and that’s David Lynch, whose intuitive feel for good and evil, and the terrors that lurk from within and without, is nothing if not singular.
Chrisoulakis and screenwriter Guy J. Jackson attempt a violent, moody neo-noir about Tinseltown fringe-dwellers, but their conceit is flimsy and under-realized, grafting a boilerplate heist story onto a bitter commentary about the corrupting forces of the film industry. Released under Arena Cinelounge’s boutique banner, the pic faces a steep climb through the Hollywood Hills.
Calling in a few favors from recognizable faces, including Lin Shaye and Sally Kirkland, the film opens with the sonorous tones of Peter Bogdanovich, whose appearance as a hypnotherapist neatly establishes a tone of dark portents and larger destinies. For Priscilla (Arielle Brachfeld), these appointments are ostensibly about shedding an addiction to cigarettes, but Bogdanovich’s words (“You are cut from immaculate cloth,” “You immerse yourself in divine mission”) carry a deeper significance, instilling her with a confidence that five years of rejection has withered away. Her job as a waitress at Marilyn’s, a little-trafficked Marilyn Monroe-themed diner, was never enough to make rent, and her father, tired of plugging money into her bank account, is beckoning her to abandon her ambitions and come back home.
Meanwhile, a trio of small-time crooks, with Shaye in garish makeup and leopard print as their leader, have absconded with untold thousands in cash from Wooks (Julian Bane), a big-time crook, and tucked it away in a secret location until the dust settles. While serving Shaye’s gang at Marilyn’s, Priscilla overhears a riddle that she correctly suspects will lead her to this ill-gotten loot, though she has no idea about the dangerous source of it. When she lures Benny (Azim Rzik), a smitten young mechanic, into helping her find the money, both of them land into trouble with all sorts of sordid, murderous characters and find themselves in the middle of a bloody conflict between rival crews. In an ironic turn, Priscilla’s newfound criminality may prove to be unnecessary, as she starts getting callback after callback for a role that would finally kick-start her career.
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Chrisoulakis and Jackson handle the noir trappings of the story well enough, with Michael Lira’s minimalist synth score doing more than its share of the heavy lifting. Their one clever idea is to suggest that Priscilla’s rise in Hollywood — and, by extension, the rise of anyone in Hollywood — requires a willingness to cross over to the dark side, from dewy-eyed ingenue to full-on femme fatale. As with Naomi Watts’ character in “Mulholland Drive,” there are forces at work beyond her own talent, and to a large extent those forces are beyond her control. She does, however, take the initiative to reach for a fortune that isn’t hers, which changes her into someone assured enough to live up to the lofty affirmations of her therapist and perhaps win the big part that’s eluded her for so long.
But there’s something doggedly amateurish about “Los Angeles Overnight” that sullies its contribution to the L.A. noir tradition, like the film is a conspicuous dress-up version of the real thing. Low production values are part of it — though Stefan Colson’s photography, with its stylized interiors and bird’s-eye view of outer Hollywood, is not — but the premise of thieves robbing thieves hasn’t been given a fresh twist here.
When not simply going through the motions, Chrisoulakis stages a few lackadaisical setpieces, including a foot chase that’s so absurdly drawn out that it ends with one of the men simply passing out from exhaustion. What’s lost in the crime story is a sharper focus on Priscilla herself, whose transformation into a proper screen siren has a Faustian quality that Chrisoulakis and Jackson can’t quite capture. Making it in Hollywood not only requires a certain type of character, the film implies, but a certain character type.