Nick Nolte plays Maxwell Hoover, the de facto leader of the four cops who answer only to the Chief. Their job, apparently, is to "get rid of gangsters and criminals" without a lot of politics or due process getting in the way. Their idea of interrogation is to throw a suspect off a particular cliff, affectionately nicknamed (ta da!) Mulholland Falls. We see them do this to a Chicago crime boss who comes to L.A. to start up business. Then, before we really see any rapport build between the four men, the plot kicks in.
Hoover and his bunch are called to a construction site in the L.A. hills, where the body of a young woman has been found. Mysteriously, her corpse shows all the signs of a fall from a great height, but no cliff is evident. Now, most everyone at this point would assume that she'd been pushed from a helicopter or plane, but it takes the police the entire movie to figure that out.
Picky details like that aside, it's pretty obvious from Hoover's reaction that he knows the dead girl, whose name is Allison Pond (Jennifer Connelly). When a reel of film surfaces, and that reel of film contains footage of Pond making love to someone, we discover that Hoover not only knew Pond, but was having an affair with her. Somewhere there's probably a similar film with Hoover playing the male lead.
The point of all this is that there's some deep dark secret out there for which Allison was killed. Like similar detective movies, Mulholland Falls treats us to an excruciatingly slow parade of clue after tiny clue, slowly exposing the big secret. The catch is that Mulholland Falls has all the dramatic pacing of a dead elephant, and the secret that is finally uncovered isn't even particularly remarkable. As a detective film, it's a disaster.
There are some bright spots in the movie. Most of the dramatic moments come from the tension between Hoover and his wife Katherine (Melanie Griffith) when his own film pops up and Katherine discovers Hoover's infidelity. As unimpressed as we've been with Griffith in the past, she really does shine in this role. It's painfully evident that her character, although still beautiful, is beginning to age and some of her glamour has left her. The insecurity that arises from this can be seen even before she learns about Max's affair, and it makes the blow even more crushing when she does find out.
The rest of the movie treats us to endless scenes of Nick Nolte practicing his tough-guy gravelly voice and looking pained at the world. Occasionally Chazz Palminteri's dumb-partner character will say something that's intended to be funny, but isn't. Even Bruce Dern's uncredited appearance as The Chief doesn't help matters.
Mulholland Falls fails because it misinterprets the basic needs of a detective thriller. The mystery should be tough to figure out, but it should make some awful, twisted sense at the end. This one doesn't. The detective should be smart, but Hoover is as dumb as a box of rocks. (Think about it: Would a smart guy have to hit so many people over the head?) The story should be character-driven, but these characters are so unlikable that the audience doesn't care. It's obvious that the moviemakers idolize Polanski's Chinatown, but the only things the two have in common are the early-Hollywood period sets. Nolte is certainly no Nicholson, and Mulholland Falls is certainly no Chinatown.
Review date: 1/19/98
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