Auto Focus is basically like a nicely acted, snappily directed episode of E! True Hollywood Story. The account of sitcom star Bob Crane’s rise to fame, first as a DJ, then as the lead in television’s Hogan’s Heroes and fall into the pit of sex addiction and (every actor’s nightmare) dinner theatre has all the elements of great tabloid trash. Top that off with a brutal murder – that may or may not have been a direct result of his years of skirt chasing – and you’re mining pop culture gold. Auto Focus, however, takes itself a little too seriously to be great trashy fun. The movie could have been a wild romp, but director Paul Schrader chose to unfurl the film in a clinical way, which avoids the pitfalls of exploitation, but also sucks some of the fun out of the story. Greg Kinnear plays against his usual good guy type and delivers a vivid portrait of Crane as a superficially smirky shallow man only interested in his hedonistic sex life. Willem Dafoe has the art of playing the villain down to a science and hands in a creepy performance as John Carpenter, the seedy audio/visual salesman who introduced Crane to the world of orgies, swinger’s bars and the naughty possibilities of video tape.
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