For a while , Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (New Line)looks like it’s really onto something special; a Robert Altman -like social tableau about the porn film industry in California’s San Fernando Valley. As the camera snakes Scorsese-like through a 1977 disco , Anderson introduces us to his characters, including a well known porn director (Burt Reynolds) intent on making a “true” film , his lead actress Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) , a sort of porn den mother with a halo and a coke addiction, and Mark Wahlberg as 17 year old Eddie, who will become porn superstar Dirk Diggler. If Anderson had simply let these characters go about chasing their dreams of stardom and finding love within their extended and surprisingly functional family (with Burt as dad and Moore as mom), the film would have been an admirably audacious look at a seldom seen milieu of the suburban backyard world of porn film making in the late 70’s and the video days of the early 80’s. Sadly, Anderson didn’t known when to quit.
As the last hour of this overly long film (it runs two and a half hours) focuses on Wahlberg’s descent into a violent world of drug addiction (Alfred Molina has a nice bit as a crazed drug dealer, recalling Gary Oldman’s Rasta psycho in True Romance.) Anderson punishes his characters for their lifestyle , and seems so intent on aping Martin Scorsese – complete with the zooming camera and break-neck editing that punctuated Ray Liotta’ s coke frenzy in Good Fellas, as well as a replay of Robert DeNiro’s mirror recitation in Raging Bull – that what starts as a breath of fresh air with strong writing ( also by Anderson) and performances ( Wahlberg , Reynolds , Moore and Heather Graham are all just fine here) turns into just another Hollywood movie with the head-exploding Tarantino-esque gunplay that seems to be written into screenwriter’s contracts these days.
A great opportunity, missed.