Murray wanders off track in 'Lost'

Coming off of a three-month binge of explosions, death, destruction and mayhem, it is refreshing to see that some directors choose to step away from overbearing eye-pleasers into the light of good cinematography.

There is no better timing for Focus Feature's "Lost in Translation" than at the end of the summer blockbuster season when all of America is struggling to catch its breath from movies like "Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" and the relentless "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."

"Lost in Translation" is the second major film direction of Sofia Coppola, whose last piece, "The Virgin Suicides," was well received by critics. "Lost in Translation" stars hilarious Bill Murray as Bob Harris, an antiquated film star who finds himself stuck in Japan to shoot a whiskey advertisement. Playing opposite Murray's character is Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) who takes a back seat to her husband John's (Giovanni Ribisi) photography career.

Insomnia finds the two night owls in a hotel bar one evening and, once acquainted, they realize that they are both in dire need of individual soul searching. The rest of the film consists of long stills of pondering Murray and Johansson's characters as they attempt to piece together how their lives went completely astray.

The film's beginning shows Murray delivering a sarcastically comedic performance that is reminiscent of his work in "Caddyshack" (1980) and "The Royal Tenenbaums" (2001). Half way through, however, the film becomes filled with painstakingly long close-ups in which the main characters are silent, making the overly common scenes deleterious, at best, to the film's overall drawing factor, Murray.

Those who watch his films expect to chortle at the witty, straight-faced groundskeeper of "Caddyshack," not the emotional range he may or may not be able to obtain as Harris. On the other hand, mainstream moviegoers will enjoy many parts of the piece simply because of the hilarious antics executed by Murray at the Japanese's expense.

Coppola does have one very strong skill in her corner; the camera angles she chooses periodically throughout the film are extremely provocative and very intelligently conceived. She is indeed the next generation of Coppola, taking her father's (Francis Ford Coppola) genius in plot development and adding a strong character base through pensive cinematography. This is how the audience meets Charlotte, a despairing wife searching for meaning in her marriage, and struggling to rekindle her desire to stay with John.

Another problem with the film is that it almost seems like there are two different tones taking place one after another. The first is the hilarity that Murray conveys when coming in contact with an unfamiliar Japanese culture. The second is when all the comedy and satire are lost and replaced with a melancholy, lifeless plot of two people who appear to be nothing more than simply depressed.

Adding to the conflicted fluidity of the film is the awkward relationship between Harris and Charlotte that spawns from their mutual disinterest in the world. They are of such different ages that the sexual confrontation that occurs is not only unbelievable, but downright bothersome in a Michael Douglas-Catherine Zeta-Jones type of way. Thankfully, the lingering tension between the two stars is no more than hinted at.

In short, despite Coppola's best efforts, the viewer is left in need of more Bill Murray doing what he does best.

Never miss a story

Get our weekly newsletter delivered right to your inbox.

More from The Eagle