Picks and Pans Review: Boogie Nights

updated 10/20/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/20/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham

Bigger doesn't always mean better. Even in a movie about a porn star. Yes, it is the good fortune of the hero of Boogie Nights, an audacious film about the rise and fall of a young porno movie hunk (Wahlberg, formerly rapper Marky Mark), to be particularly well-endowed. ("Everyone's blessed with one special thing," he says modestly.) But less noteworthy is the film's self-indulgent running time of 155 minutes.

Although admirably ambitious and visually dazzling, Boogie Nights winds up undercutting its own dramatic impact with scenes that go on long after making their point, a noticeably weaker second half and an extended cocaine heist sequence late in the movie that is merely an annoying exercise in flashy, hey-look-at-me filmmaking.

That said, Boogie Nights is still of far greater interest than most of the formulaic swill turned out by the big Hollywood studios today. Set between 1977 and 1984, the movie follows the adventures of its skin-trade Candide, a 17-year-old busboy in a Los Angeles nightclub who is discovered there by a porno filmmaker (Reynolds, slyly effective). Soon, Wahlberg joins Reynolds's extended family of actors and hangers-on, adopts the name Dirk Diggler and begins making pots of money and buying fancy duds and grooving on the dance floor like Saturday Night Fever's Tony Manero. With success, he becomes—excuse the expression—too big for his britches, and trouble follows, including drugs and a career-threatening inability to get, uh, excited.

There are eloquent, energetic performances here by a talented ensemble cast, with the standouts being an earnest if dim-witted Wahlberg and a maternal Moore, who portrays a self-destructive porn star. Director-writer Paul Thomas Anderson's storytelling abilities have yet to catch up with his virtuoso camera work, but Boogie Nights clearly vaults the now 27-year-old wunderkind, whose only previous feature is the gritty Hard Eight, into the ranks of hotshot directors. (R)

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