Perhaps if I’d paid more attention to Charlie Sheen’s 2011 public meltdown and ensuing media circus – I remember there was a lot of talk about “tiger blood” and “winning” – I would better appreciate A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. Written and directed by Roman Coppola, the movie stars Sheen as the title character, a sleazy graphic designer who hits rock bottom after his latest girlfriend dumps him.
This isn’t to say that Swan is meant to be autobiographical. For all I know, Sheen’s life wasn’t an influence at all. But that would mean that this ostentatious exercise in self-inflicted macho misery would be even more pointless.
Whatever the movie’s genesis, a big reason for its failure is the Sheen we get onscreen. Charles Swan is supposed to be an irresistible devil – sort of a rock-star artist – but the burnt-out Sheen we get has no charisma at all. If he brings any presence to the screen, it’s geriatric. His gait verges on stumbling (even when he’s sober) and he wears a dark pair of sunglasses in almost every scene, as if he’s recently had cataract surgery. After nearly 40 years in pictures, I’m left thinking his best movie moment remains one of his first: as the bad boy in the police station at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
If Sheen brings any presence to the screen, it’s geriatric.
With a lead character lacking even trace elements of rakish charm, it was hard to care one bit about anything going on in Charles Swan III – inside Swan’s mind or elsewhere. The elaborate fantasy sequences display Coppola’s eye for costume and production design, but those were both put to far better effect in his first film, CQ. Here they’re employed in the service of ill-conceived comic set pieces, including an action sequence about a female spy agency known as the Secret Society of Ball Busters.
Very little of the film is funny, despite a talented supporting cast that includes Patricia Arquette, Aubrey Plaza and Jason Schwartzman. (I like Schwartzman, but what does it say about a movie that you wonder what Jason Schwartzman is doing in it?) By far the biggest waste is Bill Murray, who has a supporting part as Swan’s business manager, Saul. Murray gets a great line, delivered with his inimitable brand of melancholy: “Desire is about as close to happiness as I’m going to get.” It’s just an aside in one of the movie’s many meandering scenes, yet it made me wish we could jump out of Swan’s mind and get into Saul’s instead.