If you're one of the many who don't "get" the rather oddball films of director David Lynch, chances are that his latest, "Mulholland Drive," will again leave you scratching your head.
After all, this noir thriller/mystery is classic latter-period Lynch it's moody, enigmatic, somewhat erotic and definitely strange. And if that isn't enough, its already peculiar story takes a swerve in the final third including a wholesale change in the "roles" its cast plays that will befuddle the vast majority of audience members, at least those who aren't Lynch aficionados.
In other words, "Mulholland Drive" is everything that "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" was not the infamous prequel that disappointed fans of Lynch's cult-favorite television show "Twin Peaks." For everyone else, it's pretty much a crapshoot.
Despite the many strange turns in Lynch's career, the one thing that remains constant is his ability to "discover" young actors, such as Kyle MacLachlan, whom he cast in "Dune," "Blue Velvet" and "Twin Peaks."
In "Mulholland Drive," it's English actress Naomi Watts, who stars as Betty Elms, a young aspiring actress who's just arrived in Hollywood.
Unlike most naive, would-be starlets, Betty is hooked up with a fairly plush apartment (her aunt's place, actually) and an audition. But she also has an unexpected visitor a mysterious brunette (Laura Elena Harring) who calls herself Rita and who seems to be suffering from memory lapses.
Rita has memories of a horrific car crash and a purse stuffed with thousands of dollars. So together, the women resolve to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Needless to say, as with most Lynch films, this story doesn't go where you think it will as the main plot is contrasted with a subplot about a movie director (Justin Theroux) who is frustrated with the casting process.
And things get even weirder, with bits about mysterious cowboys, shady Italians, a mysterious blue box and a greasy-spoon diner where something horrible is apparently about to happen. Even what seems to explain the main story's shift doesn't really explain everything.
But if Lynch's main goal is simply to make the audience feel uneasy and off-balance, he definitely succeeds.
He also succeeds in getting strong performances from his cast. Watts is particularly good, especially when her character "changes" in a way that can't readily be described. And Theroux seems to be sending up filmmaker Steven Soderbergh with his edgy, neurotic turn.
This is also one of the better collaborations between Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti, whose creepy score is used to heighten the tension rather than just to set the mood.
"Mulholland Drive" is rated R for violence (gunplay and a vehicle collision), female nudity, occasional use of strong profanity, simulated lesbian sex and a sex act, and brief gore. Running time: 146 minutes.