Even the eloquent face and supple voice of Anthony Hopkins can’t save this Absolut vodka commercial masqueradingfracture1.jpg as a cinematic thriller. Even though Ryan Gosling, as the rising legal star assigned to prosecute the murderer, has done his homework at the Don Johnson School of Acting, he can’t create a character out of this embarrassing waste of art direction. When was the last time you thought you’d grow nostalgic for Tom Cruise? The Firm was a real thriller involving the demimonde of attorneys and criminals. But Gosling is no Cruise (a sad comparison to begin with). And Fracture‘s director, Gregory Hoblit — a career producer of TV cop shows like L.A. Law and Hill Street Blues — is no Sidney Pollack.

The star of this new exercise in visual glamor is the architecture of Los Angeles. The Disney Center, Malibu, the moody orange glaze of Hollywood sunsets, and especially the Brentwood estate that forms the crime scene for this superficial psycho-study — all conspire to look fabulous, but stop short of providing anything more than costly eye candy. Cinematographer Kramer Morganthau does give us some exceptional moments, superb overlapping reflections through skyscraper windows down to the streets below, and one bit of sinister poetry in which we see the murderer’s reflection in the viscous pool of his wife’s blood. But it’s not enough.fracture.jpg

The story starts out laden with brisk promise. Hopkins, a wealthy architectural engineer, confronts his cheating wife in their staggeringly well-appointed mansion and shoots her point blank. He then coolly summons the police, goes to jail, and decides to defend himself against hot-shot LA district attorney Gosling. Now the film isn’t creative enough to actually show Gosling being a courtroom hotshot. We just hear his co-workers saying that he is, and he struts around a lot waving his cell phone. At this point we should hear the buzzer go off: Warning: film school assignment. Film noir dumbed down to film grey. Not a pretty sight.

Fracture trashes every opportunity to engage our emotions. Gosling finds himself in ever more lame and preposterous situations — not the least is an unconvincing sexual attraction between the hotshot and a senior law firm barracuda, played with a complete absence of expression by Rosamund Burke, whose face appears to have been genetically engineered. Whoever wrote these parts had never encountered an actual heterosexual alliance. All in all, nine (9) producers combined their best stuff to bring to the screen a thriller without tension, a courtroom drama without courtroom drama, a feature-length film without a script, and an homage to films like Vertigo, Jagged Edge and The Postman Always Rings Twice made without any working knowledge of film history.

I would walk two miles to watch the clever tricks of Hopkins, who manages to avoid repeating his Hannibal Lector mannerisms and forges a new variety of chilly evil. If viewers insist upon seeing him as Lector, that’s not his fault in this film. His lyrical Welsh accents do their best to craft some semblance of meaning into a script that appears to have been left unfinished. Even Gosling, whose character actually reads Dr. Seuss out loud in order to pad some of Fracture‘s lengthy gaps, looks like he’s ad-libbing. Ad-libbing works on talk shows. Not in slick murder mysteries.

Go out and buy a copy of Architectural Digest. It will contain deeper truths and a hell of a lot more dramatic tension.