Hammett Wim Wenders

Though Wim Wenders nominally directed this neo-noir, it was taken out of his hands by a capricious Francis Ford Coppola and the whole enterprise looks more like Coppola than anything by the German master. Frederic Forrest stars as indefatigable scribbler Dashiell Hammett, who finds himself drawn into a missing persons case involving his ex-boss (Peter Boyle) and a Chinese prostitute (Lydia Lei). The kidnapping turns out to be more than that, however, and soon Hammett finds himself a) separated from his latest manuscript and b) searching for the girl and whatever conspiracy swirls around her. Though this could easily have become Wenders gold, the stuffy, studio-bound genre fetishism is more along the lines of one of Coppola's movie brat cousins in all the wrong ways. Though it looks fantastic and never misses a beat, it's completely sealed off from human concerns — the pedantically reproduced witty banter makes it seem like the Coens viewed through a crystal ball and the so meticulous studio sets reveal it for the counterfeit it actually is. Furthermore, its would-be revisionism extends to neither clichés like Elisha Cook's Cheaplaffs Johnson cabbie, nor pernicious "yellow peril" stereotypes one hoped had been laid to rest. The whole thing is a lazy version of Polanski's Chinatown done with smug satisfaction instead of genuine outrage, and by the time Forrest's Hammett is shaking his head at the outcome you're ready to lob a typewriter at the conceited bastard. It's a sadly wasted effort by an artist at the height of his powers, the only bright spot of which was his revenge film, The State of Things. If you want to see a real movie rent that instead. (Paramount)