A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

Roman Coppola’s new film feels like a noble failure, but it’s hard to say exactly why. Maybe it has to do with how Coppola, as co-writer for Moonrise Kingdom, transcended Wes Anderson’s suffocating control; here, with Coppola fully in charge of his own material, the suffocation comes from a lack of control. Or maybe it’s that the first star vehicle for the meltdown-tarnished yet still sitcomish Charlie Sheen just ought to feel more audacious than this — it ought to feel like a proper trainwreck. With Bill Murray as his accountant and Jason Schwartzman as his best client and pal, Sheen plays a ’70s-era graphic designer, newly dumped and mired in concept-art memories or daydreams of fear and desire. This womanizing, fantasizing director-proxy protagonist seems deliberately kindred with those of Fosse and Fellini, but instead of mustering the passion and invention of All That Jazz or 8 1/2, all Coppola’s movie does is shamble through the old familiar riffs. Accordingly its women, including Kathryn Winnick, Patricia Arquette, Aubrey Plaza, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, seem neither beloved nor busy enough. Meanwhile much time is killed with fond blasts of soundtracker Liam Hayes’ retro-mopey music. Although not without droll moments, Charles Swan seems to confuse banal burnout for world-weary despair, which might be the essential problem of casting Sheen in the first place. You don’t see Wes Anderson going there.