Like many theatrical adaptations, Hurlyburly ultimately adds up to less than the sum of its parts. Any film starring Sean Penn and Kevin Spacey -- two actors almost guaranteed to give compelling performances -- can't be all bad, but even with them it doesn't take long for Hurlburly to descend into tedium. This failure can largely be blamed on playwright David Rabe's script. Reputed to be quite powerful on stage, the endless, narcissistic self-lacerations of each character have little impact on screen. Originally staged in the 1980s, Rabe's look at Hollywood Babylon bears the distinctive stamp of that decade. Not that the pursuit of pleasure and material goods had in any way dissipated by the film's 1998 release, but the exhibitionistic hedonism of its characters had long since become unfashionable. At the halfway point, the tedium of the first act morphs into the torture of the second. Filmmakers should not feel compelled always to provide likeable characters, but Penn's Eddie and Spacey's Mickey don't even come close. With absolutely no investment in their redemption, watching the two struggle through a variety of personal crises unique to privileged Hollywood insiders quickly becomes painful. Though a showcase for some fine actors, ultimately they are swimming against the tide.
by Keith Phipps review