Picks and Pans Review: Barton Fink

updated 09/02/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/02/1991 01:00AM

John Turturro, John Goodman

Seeing this movie is like seeing a room where two bratty 9-year-olds have gone wild with finger paints. While it's interesting to look at, the mess factor comes to dominate.

The film is written, directed and self-indulged by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen (Miller's Crossing), who call it a comedy, though it features alcoholism, murder and hellfires.

Turturro is a pretentious New York City playwright—his new play is "a celebration of the common man"—who goes to Hollywood in the '40s to write movies. He takes a room in a hotel where his next-door neighbor, Goodman as a hail-fellow salesman, drops by to share a drink with Turturro or demonstrate wrestling holds.

Turturro also encounters a Faulkneresque southern writer, John Ma-honey, who is shepherded through drinking bouts by Judy Davis. Michael Lerner is a slobbish studio executive. Soon some Los Angeles cops start hassling Turturro about a murder, his writer's block reaches critical mass, and everything disintegrates in a shoot-out complete with bizarre flames.

The scattershot movie ends up leaving only a blotted impression. Turturro's title character has a name, for instance, that is a synonym for "strikebreaker" and antithetical to his pro—working-man speeches. But this notion leads nowhere and has nothing to do with Faulkner or murder or the repeated image of things cracking.

It's as if The Day of the Locust, The Bad and the Beautiful and Chinatown had been snipped into pieces, then re-spliced at random. That this film won three awards at Cannes can only enhance that festival's reputation as the place to go to see starlets disrobe. (R)

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