Caan Wags HBOs Poodle Mystery


James Caan, as private eye Philip Marlowe, is the best
ingredient in Home Box Office's movie, Poodle Springs -- but unfortunately, he
doesn't deliver the charisma that he brought to such films as TheGodfather,
Misery oreven Eraser.

That's partly because Marlowe's new marriage --
to a young lawyer named Laura (Dina Meyer), whose wealthy father gifts them with a mansion
in Poodle Springs -- has sadly made this devil-may-care loner more mellow and less
hard-boiled than in past movie incarnations.

Tom Stoppard's screenplay is based on the final
Marlowe mystery, a best-seller begun by Raymond Chandler and completed 30 years later by
Robert Parker. The odd title refers to a town in the California desert, near the Nevada
border -- a key point in the plot.

The slow-moving story is set in 1963, but the artificial
acting at the outset seems like a throwback to the black-and-white era. Indeed, character
interaction is sometimes as awkward as Marlowe is in the society circles into which his
marriage has thrown him. Moreover, none of the secondary characters really stands out; Joe
Don Baker's role as Marlowe's father-in-law is little more than a cameo.

With five executive producers, maybe this is a case of too
many cooks spoiling the plot.

The complicated story is more interesting than the
individual characters. The vintage cars in Los Angeles and Palm Springs do add atmosphere,
as his bride and his new caseload combine to expose Marlowe -- an old-fashioned,
$100-per-day private eye -- to the lifestyles of the rich and sleazy.

Two seemingly unrelated cases -- tracking down another
private eye's killer and, later, a rich guy in debt to a casino -- gradually
converge. Marlowe accidentally learns that all plotlines lead to photographer Larry Victor
(David Keith), who's leading another life as Charles Nicholls.

But there's still a lot more to be figured out once
that piece of the puzzle is known. When Marlowe finally breaks through the tangled web of
blackmail, multiple murders, gangsters, real estate deals and mental instability, he
stumbles onto another link closer to home.

Coproduced by HBO Pictures and Universal Television
Entertainment, Poodle Springs bows on HBO July 25 at 9 p.m.