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Ask the Dust

Genre: Romantic Drama
Rated: R
Directed by
: Robert Towne
Starring: Salma Hayek, Colin Farrell, Idina Menzel, Donald Sutherland

Released by: Paramount Film Classics

In Short: A steamy romance without any steam, and the passionate feelings needed to make this boring drama sizzle are nowhere to be seen.

Cough, Cough
Dust and Lust in Thirties Los Angeles
By Jenny Peters

"Ask the Dust" centers around lust and passion in a tale set in Los Angeles in the early Thirties. With Salma Hayek in the female lead, you'd think that the sparks would just fly right out of the screen, with whatever lucky guy was cast opposite her. Sadly, that isn't the case with Colin Farrell, who plays an ambitious Italian-American writer to her Mexican immigrant waitress.

Based on the 1939 autobiographical novel of the same name by John Fante, "Ask the Dust" tries to address two separate themes but has little success in illuminating either. First, the theme of the inexplicable nature of love is explored. Both characters are looking for a way up the social ladder through a marriage to the right kind of person, only to find an overwhelming attraction in the wrong kind. Second, the theme of bigotry and racism is central, as the Mexican tries to shake off her third-class immigrant status, while the Italian is doing the same with his second-class spot.

Problem is, writer-director Robert Towne, he of the sublime "Chinatown," which is set during a similar time in Los Angeles history, can't get his actors to spark. Sure, they spat and spar, and even go for an extremely revealing midnight ocean swim (both actors are buck-naked and on impressive display, perhaps worth the price of admission to some), but the emotion is never there. Taken from an epic love story set against the sere dusty desert landscapes that made Los Angeles such a distinctive city, "Ask the Dust" is just a pale imitation of the passionate novel.

The racism aspect is just as flat, with some obvious moments that play as incredibly forced and unrealistic, despite the clear realization that people did wear their prejudices on their sleeves back in the day. Add in the fact that Hayek's name is Camilla, and she begins to cough about a third of the way through the flick, and anyone who has read Dumas or seen Greta Garbo in "Camille" immediately knows just how the film is going to end. Badly, the same way it has played out along the way.

(Updated 08/30/07 NJ)

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