Almost anyone raised on a diet of "Hogan's Heroes" reruns could pull off a decent Bob Crane impression, but it takes fellow small-screen golden boy Greg Kinnear to totally embody the bankable amiability of a star who got away with murder until he himself was killed.
In "Auto-Focus," Crane rockets to fame as the star of a monumentally questionable concentration-camp comedy, even as his off-hours become equally bizarre. Indulging an unquenchable predilection for female flesh, he sacrifices home and family to a lifestyle defined by stag-party "swinging," often captured on videotape. The latter indulgence is made possible by John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), a technological pioneer who envies Crane's pull with the ladies -- and perhaps covets the actor for himself.
The two leads replicate this perverse symbiosis with such elan that you wonder why director/co-writer Paul Schrader doesn't trust them to carry the film. Instead, he busts a number of heavy-handed moves, like switching to bleached-out cinematography and handheld camera work as Crane eventually succumbs to unemployable degeneracy. Subtle insinuation thus dispensed with, you know Schrader won't be shy about implicating Carpenter in Crane's death. Yet what "Auto-Focus" lacks in finesse, it makes up for in Kinnear's multifaceted performance, which reveals the breathtakingly cruel misogyny behind Crane's everyguy accessibility. He and Carpenter hate women almost as much as they dread not having them around.
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