Picks and Pans Review: City of Ghosts

updated 05/05/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/05/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Matt Dillon, James Caan, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard

Credit Matt Dillon for trying. City of Ghosts, his first shot at directing a film (he helmed an episode of HBO's Oz), doesn't always work, but it's an honorable, if overambitious, effort.

Dillon, who cowrote the script, is in Humphrey Bogart territory here, playing an ethically ambivalent hero initially out for himself in a foreign land. Jimmy Cremming (Dillon), a salesman, heads for Phnom Penh, Cambodia, after taking part in an insurance scam that goes bad. He's looking for his con-man boss (Caan), who has run off with the loot, but soon becomes ensnared in a complex web involving seedy expatriates, corrupt locals, kidnapping and murder.

Ghosts is heavy on plot and atmosphere (the on-location photography is gorgeous) but short on character development. Dillon's mistakes are those of a beginner: He's trying to tell too many stories and can't bear to let any of them go. (R)

BOTTOM LINE: Aims high but falls short

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