Behind the dinner jackets, smooth delivery and laugher, family entertainers, so the cliche goes, hide bile that feeds their comedy. Audience laughter loudly masks the bitterness, rage and cynicism at the dark heart of show business. The twisted universe has decreed that clowns are cursed for making us laugh. It is the price of celebrity.
It is the underlying message of Where The Truth Lies, writer/director Atom Egoyan’s noirish thriller starring Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth as a Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin double act from hell. Bacon’s Lanny Morris prances about the stage, while suave partner Vince Collins (Firth) plays it straight.
They are at the top of their game. Offering up “light entertainment” in charity telethons beamed into the homes of ’50s America. Their harder edged stage act entertains wise guys with bad connections in smart bars. Off stage Lanny’s madcap antics hide a ruthless womaniser, while Vince’s cool drops to reveal a vicious sadist.
After a girl’s naked body is found in their hotel room, the act falls apart – despite the two having watertight alibis. Something smells off, and it isn’t the lobsters on ice received from a gangland boss.
Fifteen years later armed with a big book deal and head full of ambition Karen O’Connor (Alison Lohman), a young journalist and fan, is pursuing the two. She wants to find out what happened that night and is willing to cross lines to find the truth.
Trouble is we have seen it all before in Rat Pack movies and Scorsese’s made men. As for the nastiness of showbiz, Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (which stars Jerry Lewis in full on bastard mode) and Laurence Olivier’s Archie Rice in The Entertainer offer far superior tears-and-terrors of the clown acts.
Both those films had involving main characters – as foul as they are, they arrest your attention. And that is the central problem of Where The Truth Lies: after half an hour, you don’t care what happens to these guys – or the girl pursuing them.
The fault lies chiefly with the Lanny-Collins act. While Bacon and Firth are undoubtedly fine dramatic actors – both have a nice line in nasty – they cannot do comedy. On stage Bacon lacks the unconscious anarchy needed for Lanny’s brand of zany entertainment, while Firth lacks the cool irony needed to deliver Collins’s lines. Their act is poorly scripted, but better writing could not redeem their fundamental lack of chemistry. Throughout I found myself wondering how these guys ended up a hit double act. Certainly, Egoyan supplies few on screen clues.
Alison Lohman is equally misjudged as O’Connor. More prom queen than media whore, it is hard to take her seriously as a hard-bitten hack famed for a kind of feminised gonzo journalism, especially in her sex scenes. Redemption does not come from the much-hyped “graphic sex”. Yes, girls, we do get to see Mr Darcy’s bottom, but don’t get too excited: for all its erotic intent, the scenes are curiously cold.
The themes of Where The Truth Lies are ambitious. None of the modern obsessions are left undisturbed – celebrity, sex, sexuality, the nature of truth and the complicity of the fourth estate in perpetuating myths, Big issues that need space to be explored. Perhaps that is why it ultimately fails. Egoyan should have been more ruthless with his script – and more ruthless in his choice of cast.