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Ask the Dust (R)

Release Date: March 10th, 2006 by Paramount Classics.
The Cast: Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Donald Sutherland, Eileen Atkins, Idina Menzel, Justin Kirk, Dion Basco, Jeremy Crutchley.
Directed by Robert Towne.

BASIC PREMISE: During the Great Depression, Arturo Bandini(Farrell), an Italian-American novelist, develops a romantic relationship with Camilla (Hayek), a Mexican waitress. Based on the novel by John Fante.

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Ask the Dust start out very promising as Arturo settles into his Los Angeles hotel and gets to know his surroundings. One of his poverty-stricken neighbors includes Hellfrick, played by Donald Sutherland. The owner the hotel is Mrs.Hargraves (Atkins), who prohibits Mexicans and Jews to reside in her hotel no matter how much money they have. At a local restaurant, Arturo meets Camilla, a beautiful waitress with a sharp tongue who always defends herself from Arturo’s racist insults. The screenplay by Robert Downe builds up their romance very naturally so that you actually want them to fall in love despite how often they fight. Once they start their romantic relationship in the second act, the plot loses much of its momentum and feels contrived. For example, Arturo eventually meets Vera (Menzel), a Jewish woman who barges into his apartment drunk, but she doesn’t really seem like much of a threat to his relationship with Camilla. Also, there’s an interesting yet unexplored subplot involving Solomon (Kirk), a bartender who is very good friends with Camilla and dreams of becoming a novelist just like Arturo. Salma Hayek gives a truly radiant performance as Camilla—she shines in every scene. However, Colin Farrell is not quite convincing when he needs to be, especially during the third act when the plot gets more dramatic. Most of the time, it’s hard to sympathize with Arturo even though you want to. On a positive note, the cinematography is very beautiful, especially when Camilla and Arturo head to the beach at night during a full-moon—both Hayek and Farrell show some nudity. Later, there’s a well-shot, sensual sex-scene. Director Robert Towne gives Ask the Dust a lot of period detail of Los Angeles during the 1930’s with the old-fashioned clothes, hair-styles and cars—if only coffee would still cost a nickel today. The third act does have a few surprises, but it often feels like a stilted, contrived soap opera.

SPIRITUAL VALUE: It’s interesting that almost every scene has sunlight, which somewhat symbolizes Arturo’s hopes and dreams to strike it rich as a novelist during the harsh Depression era. Some early scenes with Arturo and Camilla feel moving, but when Ask the Dust ultimately tries to be heartbreaking it doesn’t quite succeed.

INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: A weak and contrived third act.


IN A NUTSHELL: Salma Hayek gives a radiant performance! Superbly-directed, the plot becomes too contrived and simply loses momentum by the third act.

RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (2nd Run)

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