Picks and Pans Review: The Doors
Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan
This is not Spinal Tap. But it is often close to that rock-documentary parody, so excessive was Jim Morrison and the reaction to him, so credulous is director Oliver (Born on the Fourth of July) Stone's attitude toward him in this extravagant, hypnotic, heavy-handed, good-bad trip of a movie.
Morrison and his band, the Doors, had had a half-dozen years of flash success when he died in 1971 of what was called a heart attack. But he was, at 27, a voracious substance abuser, and he is usually ranked among the '60s self-wasted musicians.
Stone has said of Morrison, "When he died in 1971, it was like the day JFK died for me....I worshiped him." He ends the film with a canonization, juxtaposing shots of Morrison's tomb with those of Proust, Chopin and Bizet.
It's an outrageous attitude to take toward a monotonal singer whose rhymes-r-us idea of poetry was a couplet matching "wallow in the mire" with "our love become a funeral pyre." And a life that was, at least as portrayed here, a permanent floating psychotic break hardly justifies reverence.
But if you have to get yourself lionized, Stone is the guy to do it. He doesn't know from anything less than larger-than-life.
He and cowriter J. Randal (Dudes) Johnson clearly want to depict Morrison as a genius. Kilmer (Willow), as Morrison, and his bandmates keep gushing such pompous lines as, "The planet is screaming for change. We gotta make the myths."
Aside from one sequence that shows Morrison witnessing a highway accident as a boy, there is no context for his despairing behavior, no indication that he knows anything of much interest. Instead. Stone treats the singer's self-destructive, self-pitying, universally abusive behavior as prima facie proof that Morrison was an inspired artist.
Ryan, as Morrison's woefully devoted girlfriend Pam Courson, and Kyle (Twin Peaks) MacLachlan, as straight-arrow Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, are portrayed as if their relative normality is to be scorned. Meanwhile, Morrison goes through women, drugs, booze and chest-hair shampoo at a fierce pace.
Stone, with his mastery of sound and broad images, stages orgiastic concert scenes that effectively call into question audience motivations (which appear to be mindless rebellion and blind, women-have-only-one-thing-on-their-mind lust). It's a measure of how much he wants to magnify Morrison, though, that Stone resorts to so much mumbo jumbo: Mystical American Indian figures keep materializing, and it's not only Morrison who sees them.
The impressive cast, headed by the grimly intense Kilmer (whose take on Morrison is more cynical than Stone's), seems constantly wired. Kevin (Immediate Family) Dillon is Doors drummer John Densmore, and Frank (Born on the Fourth of July) Whaley is guitarist Robby Krieger. Kathleen Quinlan adds a sexy-demonic quality as Morrison's witchy consort, Patricia Kennealy, and the cameo performers include singers Billy Idol, Fiona, Bonnie Bramlett, Billy Vera and Paul Williams. Crispin Glover (a perfect Andy Warhol) also appears, as do Mimi Rogers, lawyer William Kunstler and Will Jordan, reviving his Ed Sullivan imitation. There's milling around, psychedelic effects, near-explicit sex and violence.
This is, yes, a big movie, a long one (135 minutes) and full of displays of the abilities of those involved. In the end, though, all that talent and dedication is misplaced—as if somebody had carved Michael Dukakis's head into Mount Rushmore. (R)
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