What can be said of “Auto Focus” is what can be said of many film biographies: There are some great performances here, but why is this story being told?
Biopics are often labors of love for their writers and directors, and too often, because of their passion for the subject, filmmakers assume the audience will be as interested in the people being biographed as they are.
Usually, however, audiences have only a passing knowledge of the subject and must be enticed with a good story, just like with any other film.
“Auto Focus,” directed by Paul Schrader, has an interesting story. The subject is Bob Crane, the star of “Hogan’s Heroes” who became addicted to sex and home-made pornography and was found murdered in a hotel room in 1978. The murder was never solved.
That’s a fine starting point, but there must be more. If Crane’s slip from a serene, square life to one of depravity is a cautionary tale, who is being cautioned? The film makes no attempt to show how or why Crane was led to that life; merely that he WAS. But good films must do more than present a litany of historical details. They need to infuse them with life, purpose and reason. All “Auto Focus” does is offer up this lame platitude as its moral: “Men gotta have fun.” Well, duh.
Willem Dafoe is strong as Crane’s oily cohort John Carpenter, and the re-creations of “Hogan’s Heroes” moments are flawless and impeccable.
Greg Kinnear is nearly perfect as Crane. Going beyond a mere impersonation of the man’s voice and mannerisms, he presents Crane as a real, live person. If only the movie were as fleshed out (and not just full of flesh) as its lead performance.
C+ (1 hr., 47 min.; )