Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's second feature (after Hard Eight) is a two-and-a-half-hour epic about one corner of the LA porn industry during the 70s and 80s--a seemingly limited subject that becomes the basis for a suggestive and highly energetic fresco. The sweeping first hour positively leaps with swagger and euphoria as an Orange County busboy (Mark Wahlberg) is plucked from obscurity by a patriarchal pornmeister (Burt Reynolds at his near best) to become a sex star. Alas, this being the American cinema, tons of gratuitous retribution eventually come crashing down on practically everybody in mechanical crosscutting patterns, and because Anderson has bitten off more than he can possibly chew, a lot of his minor characters are never developed properly. Moreover, just as Hard Eight at times slavishly depended on Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le flambeur, Anderson's idea of a smart move here is to "outdo" Tarantino (in a fabulous late sequence with Alfred Molina) and to plagiarize a sequence from Raging Bull that itself quotes from On the Waterfront, rather than come up with something original. But notwithstanding its occasional grotesque nods to postmodernist convention, this is highly entertaining Hollywood filmmaking, full of spark and vigor. With Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Nicole Ari Parker. Gardens, Pipers Alley. --Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.