short takes (2)

Every so often, a Hollywood filmmaker takes on Hollywood, with no holds barred. This is an old tradition, dating back to "Sunset Boulevard" and beyond. But the results are often disappointing -- "Alex in Wonderland," by Paul Mazursky, say, or the recent "Stardust Memories" of Woody Allen.

Blake Edwards is the latest filmmaker to stumble over this format. His longtime Hollywood credentials are impeccable, from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Days of Wine and Roses" to "10" and the "Pink Panther" pictures. A few years ago, though, he made a flop called "Darling Lili" that was cut (by the studio) into a form he didn't approve of. In his new movie, "S.O.B.," he vents two hours' worth of spleen over this incident, and the system that allowed it to happen.

It's all fictionalized, of course, into the make-believe story of a demented director named Felix Farmer who trieds to "save" his disastrous musical by turning it into a pornography epic. As written and directed by Edwards, this makes for a savage satire full of blackly comic pokes at Hollywood and the odd forms of human nature that thrive there. But spleen doesn't make a very firm foundation for a film, no matter how tempered by humor and moviemaking savvy. This is a strangely cold work for Edwards, its humanity smothered by clumsy comedy and an aggressive vulgarity that gets in the way of the picture's more thoughtful values. At his best Edwards is a director of consummate class, a thinking person's entertainer, but in his new satire he lets himself, his audience, and eve n poor old Hollywood down.

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