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Wim, Place and Show

The End of Violence
Wim Wenders

Been Here and Gun: Andie MacDowell and Bill Pullman discuss the pressing need to resolve conflicts peacefully in Wim Wenders' 'The End of Violence.'

In 'The End of Violence,' Wim Wenders wrestles vaguely with visionary ideas

By Richard von Busack

SINCE Wings of Desire, his last universally liked film, director Wim Wenders has released only one picture of note in the U.S.: Until the End of the World (1991). Until the End of the World was a botch, but it was awash with science-fiction ideas that went beyond futuristic motorcycle gangs and people shooting aliens.

In Daly City, you can see one of Wenders' locations for Until the End of the World. It's at the crest of a hill that allows a telescopic view of mile after mile of tract houses tumbling down to the sea. Wenders shot a scene there in front of a tiny motel and a used-car lot. The scene was minimally related to the millennialist plot; in fact, it was just an incidental sequence of a raging, shotgun-bearing Allen Garfield selling beat-up heaps with five-digit prices painted on their windshields.

Like the advertisements for the Ruby Rhod show in the otherwise disposable The Fifth Element, the sequence really seemed to be a window into a future despoiled by overpopulation, ruinous inflation and random fury. And this was just a minute in the work of a first-rate director.

So it gives me no pleasure to report that The End of Violence is another botch, especially after the troubles the film has been through already. The End of Violence received a cold shoulder at the Cannes Film Festival and was recut to make the ending more palatable (the film fades into a transcendental helicopter shot now). Wenders' visionary ideas get lost in the background, and the notion of an end to violence gets lost in a sort of New Age pastiche of Sullivan's Travels.

The End of Violence emerged as a side project from a stalemated science-fiction movie on which Wenders, scriptwriter Nicholas Klein and U2's Bono were collaborating. When the money didn't materialize, Wenders apparently decided to film the stalemate instead. Actually, The End of Violence does look exactly like what you'd expect from a film by Bono: a masochistic, preachy, inchoate piece with broad streaks of sentimentality.

A synopsis of the rambling plot should give an idea of the whole. The multileveled story is set in present-day L.A. Bill Pullman plays Mike Max, the cold, wealthy producer of such films as Creative Killing and Odd Sudden Deaths. He's carjacked, and the carjackers debate whether or not to snuff him for 10 suspense-free minutes.

Max escapes, but this exposure to real violence changes the producer's life. He hides from the police for months in the care of his own Mexican gardeners, who adopt him, feed him and teach him the way of the leaf blower. Max's wife, Paige (Andie MacDowell, playing a suffering Madonna again), turns out to be a sharp businesswoman who takes over Max's abandoned entertainment empire.

Meanwhile, a character named Ray (Gabriel Byrne) works, apparently under duress, on a secret job at the Griffith Park Observatory. He seems to have all of L.A. under surveillance. And a stuntwoman who worked for Max meets a performance artist (played by Nicole Parker) who is given to telling on stage the sad story of how dad used to rape her.

WENDERS ASSEMBLES the motley characters into a story, but he neglects to add the bits that might make it plausible--scenes, for example, of the gardeners being paid by Max so that we don't get the impression that they're just Wenders' idea of happy, simple, carefree peasants.

Wenders also should have shown us the qualities in Paige that might make us believe she's something more than just another depressed Malibu courtesan who sprawls around on her bed sighing things like "Life ... I have a yearning for life." This paranoid tale has no muscle. The End of Violence is a exhausted film that limps, over the course of the months it takes place, into an unshaped, vague ending.

Scene by scene, however, it has moments: a frightening shot of a towering freeway interchange in dark-blue filtered twilight and a comic guest role by Udo Kier (looking like a million marks these days) raising his eyebrows as an exasperated Hungarian director.

Wenders tries to critique violence in the media without using violence. In the past, he has spoken of the ways in which movies colonize the subconscious, and the violence that fuels American movies has apparently claimed Wenders' own mind. (The only scene that seems to have Wenders' interest is an armed showdown in Max's film within a film, Seeds of Violence.) Maybe Wenders is fighting an enemy in his own head.

Violence in the abstract is too nebulous a target. Grouping all the different forms of violence together, as Wenders does here, results in a haphazard rant that equates gangsta rap and government hit squads with carjacking and splatter movies. It's no wonder that Wenders' attack--I mean, his nonviolent confrontation--is so nebulous. It's as if he were arm-wrestling an octopus.

The End of Violence is another example of how the best intentions make the worst movies. On the way home from the film, I was reading Carol Shields' novel The Stone Diaries, and I found a sentence that could have been the picture's epitaph: "Goodness cannot cope with badness--it's too good, you see, too stupidly good."

The End of Violence (R; 122 min.), directed by Wim Wenders, written by Nicholas Klein and Wenders, photographed by Pascal Rabaud and starring Bill Pullman, Gabriel Byrne and Andie MacDowell.

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From the Oct. 2-8, 1997 issue of Metro.

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