Distributor ThinkFilm raised so much of a stink about its Where the Truth Lies receiving an NC-17 from the MPAA that one had to assume the movie was some sort of crusading artistic statement. One failed appeal later, the film is going out unedited and unrated, so we can all see it for what it is: a lurid, pretentious mess with almost nothing to recommend it beyond its ability to attract cheap publicity.
Based on the novel by Rupert Holmes, Truth uses the heyday of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as the impetus for a pulp-speculative wallow in the cesspit of celebrity. Holmes' story reanimates Deano and Jerry in the persons of Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth), kings of comedy whose reign ended in the late 1950s after a dead girl was found in their hotel suite. Given that their offstage hours appear to have consisted largely of sex-and-drug bacchanals (there's your MPAA flap), discerning how this particular tragedy came to pass is no easy task. The mystery goes unsolved for 15 years whereupon a conniving author and former fan (Alison Lohman) of Lanny's takes it upon herself to crack the case for all time.
The movie shuttles back and forth between 1957 and 1972, never missing a chance to show off some nice, naked bodies and Phillip Barker's retro production designs. Through it all, Lohman embodies the devotion to style over solidity: Her truly horrible line readings peg her should-be-pivotal character as a breathy airhead who just happens to own a closet's worth of fetching hot pants and kinky boots. Which, in this movie, matters only slightly less than how quickly (and often) she can get them off.
The match of Holmes and screenwriter/director Atom Egoyan is a classic oil-water mixture, with the filmmaker applying his otherworldly preciousness (everything looks touched by morning sunlight, even the nightclub scenes) to a simple whodunit that's no weightier than Holmes' enjoyable stage plays The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Accomplice. There's an important difference, though: Where those shows were playful and benign, Truth is cruelly sordid, full of unlikable characters who exploit each other blithely and for the benefit of a director who can't wait to watch, so he can sell it back to us in the name of Art. Phooey.