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Mulholland Falls/C+, B

US/1995/Color/Widescreen 1.85:1/Stereo Surround,DD/107 minutes/Directed by Lee Tamahori/Starring Nick Nolte/Melanie Griffith/MGM-UA/Theatrical Trailer/27 Chaps/CLV/$34.98

After the scintillating debut of Once Were Warriors, director Lee Tamahori snatched a plum Hollywood project in Mulholland Falls. The big fall here is that the script provides too little substance for Tamahori’s fine visual style to make much difference.

The Hat Squad is a no holds bar unit of the LA police department in the early 1950s. Led by Lt. Max Hoover, they have the latitude to take the law into their own hands as long as it keeps LA clean. Why not throw an errant crook or two off the cliff known by the squad as Mulholland Falls.

The free style of the squad leads Hoover into an affair with a woman of questionable repute. When she is found murdered in the desert, the squad takes a more profound interest in the case than they normally would.

The set-up of the movie makes a major focus the make-up of Hat Squad, but the plot dissolves into a typical government cover-up theme, this time involving the Atomic Energy Commission. Throwing some FBI interference into the foray doesn’t make for the added interest the filmmakers had hoped for. Did I miss some major joke that making Hoover the chef of the Hat Squad equated in some mysterious way with Hoover the head of the FBI? That the Hat Squad theme is never developed remains a major disappoint in Mulholland Falls. Relationships are hinted at but never developed.

The plot fails to produce any tension whatsoever. This is a suspense film with no suspense. We know who killed the girl virtually from the very beginning of the movie. We recognize the bad guy as soon as he’s introduced. Motive becomes the mystery, but the real mystery is how the writers failed to make more of this promising film.

Tamahori tries hard to give create a powerful atmosphere throughout Mulholland Falls and visually, the film is often stunning. Using DP Haskell Wexler is wise insurance against dull looking pictures. But the pictures never fully create the desired steam and sleaze. Like the score by score by Dave Grushin, they only point up the deficiencies of the script.

Nick Nolte does more than can be expected with the dull script. Nolte’s Hoover is a convincing cop. Nolte looks younger here than he did playing a crooked cop ten years ago in the interesting Sidney Lumet directed Q & A. Melanie Griffith doesn’t have much to do as Hoover’s wife except look alternately pretty and wounded. Chazz Palminteri keeps his monotone acting record in tact as Hat Squad cohort Coolidge and John Malkovich sleep walks through the role of General Timms, head of the atomic testing facility.

The disc has a slightly orange cast, like it spent too much time under the desert sun. Some scenes have more grain than desirable, but other than a few minor dropouts, the pressing is clean enough. The sound is outstanding. Dave Grushin’s score is richly recorded with enveloping brass. Pistol shots and crunching knuckles make convincing effects in the surrounds.