Lonely Hearts **1/2
Directed by Todd Robinson
Written by Todd Robinson
John Travolta as Elmer C. Robinson
James Gandolfini as Charles Hildebrandt
Jared Leto as Ray Fernandez
Salma Hayek as Martha Beck
Scott Caan as Detective Reilly
Laura Dern as Rene Fodie
108 Minutes(Rated R for strong violence and sexual content, nudity and language.)
"Lonely Hearts" is yet another attempt-and for the first time in a while one that actually almost makes the bar-to recreate a film noir type feeling through verbal communication, set design, lighting, and costumes. The last time this happened-"The Black Dahlia"-it was a complete failure. "Lonely Hearts" actually seems to make some kind of effort, even though the script falls flat when you realize that Robinson wasn't trying to tell a story, he was trying to pay tribute to an old family member of his. That's right, if you look at the cast list, look at the name of the character played by John Travolta, and then look at the name of the writer/director, you may see something similar. In fact, the Travolta character is really the grandfather of director Todd Robinson, and at times it felt like he was trying to pay respects to his grandfather, all at the expense of the viewer.
Now I love film noir, and for some reason every time an American director tries to recreate the feeling of a good old film noir, I get a little excited. I love the mood and look of it, and in the most recent writing project of mine I often try to get into the noir mood. But every director somehow fails at it, makes it flat or something along those lines. The fact of the matter is that "Lonely Hearts" is really two stories-one a film noir and the other a soap opera in the life of Elmer C. Robinson, and it is easy to understand while watching which one is the weak link.
Travolta plays Elmer C. Robinson, a detective who lost his wife three years ago when she shot herself in the head in their bathtub. He never figured out why she did it, and she never left a note. Him and his son don't talk about the death, but it is clear that it brings in a lot of tension. He has been having a small fling with somebody else on the squad-Rene-but refuses to bring her home or introduce her to his son. We then meet Ray Fernandez, a con man who meets and robs lonely women who put "Lonely Heart" classifieds in the newspaper. His latest is Martha Beck, a damaged young woman that instantly sleeps with Ray, and joins him on his spree. However she brings murder into the mix, and with each person that Ray is planning to rob, she gets jealous and ends up murdering them. . . usually with a hammer. Elmer goes off to try and solve the Lonely Heart Murders, along with his friend and partner Charles Hildebrandt, but he is unaware at the problems that it'll bring into his life.
Now "Lonely Hearts" has a large A-list cast, and they all bring in decent performances. And it is an interesting film, especially when it focuses on Ray and Martha and the murders that they commit. The other half is all about Elmer, and that would have been fine except for the fact that I would have rather watched him try and solve the case as opposed to him having a heartfelt talk with Rene-played by the usually criminally underused Laura Dern. In fact in the end everything seems to tie together easily, and there was never any thrill in the chase for the two killers, which is how "Lonely Hearts" fails as a detective story. The noir feel is there, and both Travolta and Gandolfini wear the long coats and the neat hats that I have always been fond of. There is the usually dark shadow scenes, and the rain where the beads slowly fall off the tip of the hat. There is the dry detective acting, and the slow jazz music playing in the background during most of the scenes. There is no doubt about Robinson's effect as a director. It is his screenplay that needs a bit of work, and when he isn't glorifying or paying tribute to his late grandfather there is actually a decent story here. The personal bits in Travolta's life did not add to the soul of the film, and it really ended up making it suffer. "Lonely Hearts" is a well acted and interesting crime story that for some reason is not getting a bigger release. The cast alone could probably allow it to be somewhat successful. There are some aspects of it that actually are brilliant, but there is also enough for me to just not recommend a theatre viewing. This is enjoyable, but not every minute is worthy.