Lonely Hearts

Director: Todd Robinson   
John Travolta, Salma Hayek, James Gandolfini

Over the more than ten years I have spent running this web site, I have revealed a lot about myself. I've told you a range of stuff about myself, from incidents in my childhood to stuff that had just happened the other day. I'm pretty sure I will mention a lot more stuff about myself in the future. However, there are a few things about myself that I think are just too personal to reveal on this web site. Indeed, there is at least one review in my files I am holding back because after writing it, I thought it was too personally revealing. But things might change in the future. I say this, because I am about to reveal something about my personal life that I thought I would never reveal anything about. I am about to tell you something of my love life, specifically that first love of mine in my life. Her name was Cannon, and I first met her when I was a teenager through the efforts of her parents, Mr. Golan and Mr. Globus. Her parents portrayed her like no other parents portrayed their children - she was portrayed as being full of action, humorous (though usually not intentionally), while looking sleek despite the limited money usually spent on her getup. For some time, I remember spending time getting to know her on the couch (watching her on my TV). I remember our first real date, when I went to the local theater with her (to see Cyborg) - if it had been a drive-in theater, I am sure some real passion would have built up and steamed up the car's windows! For some time, I was convinced that this was destined to be the love of my life, and I would be with Cannon for the rest of my life.

But I was a teenager then; I was not fully aware of the harsh realities that can get into life. I got my first dose of reality when one day, Mr. Golan and Mr. Globus had a nasty split. Mr. Globus got custody of Cannon, while Mr. Golan went elsewhere. The split affected my dear Cannon deeply; Mr. Globus did not let Cannon make that many new appearances after that point, and when she did appear to me, well, she somehow wasn't the same. I confess with some embarrassment that I was so starved for the old Cannon I once knew, I started cheating with Mr. Golan's new stepdaughter, 21st Century Film Corporation. I secretly juggled the two loves in my life for some time, but eventually both became bankrupt, and they weren't in my life anymore. I was heartbroken. For the next few years, I was mostly involved with a number of one night stands with film companies I had not heard of before, or since. Most of them were forgettable, but in one part I am grateful for these experiences since I think they were the biggest inspiration for The Unknown Movies. I did try some new relationships at some points, though I thought Franchise Pictures was a harsh mistress and I wasn't sad to see her go, and while I was madly in love with PM Entertainment at one point, it may have been best she disappeared from my life because her secret past was rocky and she was starting to show some serious character flaws in her appearances to me. All this time, however, I kept the feelings of my first love in the back of my mind, and I wondered if I would find someone with the same spirit and determination ever again.

Then I saw her face - and I'm a believer. Actually, it didn't start that way at first. At first she was just a friend, and for several years I could depend on her for having at the very least slick production values for the limited amount of funds that were spent on her upkeep. Then when The Peacekeeper came around, I started to wonder maybe, just maybe, this lady had that special something buried deep within her. As the years progressed, my theory turned out to be correct - this lady had that Cannon spirit, turning out countless slick B grade movies. The name of this new lady in my life is Nu Image, and some of its other accomplishments include the Cyborg Cop series and the Operation Delta Force series. Although not all of its movies work, they have that irresistable Cannon spirit. But wait, it gets even better! You see, Nu Image has a twin sister! Yes, the same parents behind Nu Image have also created Millennium Films. Nu Image's sister is even more like Cannon, getting name actors (often B grade, but sometimes from the A list) to appear in slightly higher budgeted movies that often get a theatrical release. Some of its movies include 88 Minutes, The Wicker Man, and Righteous Kill. Like Cannon, their movies usually don't make much of a dent at the box office, leading me to wonder how they survive. (My theory, based on the frequent German language copyrights in their credits, is that they have access to some kind of tax shelter.) Sometimes Nu Image and Millennium Films get together on a film and hooooo-weeee, let me tell you that when I get in, it's a memorable threesome!

Although I have reviewed several Nu Image and Millennium Films movies in the past, I decided I'd do another one not only to bring attention to them, but also because I had the opportunity to review something Lonely Heartsdifferent than usual from them. That movie is Lonely Hearts, and what makes it different from most of their other movies is that it is based on a true story. It's based on the 1940s case of two murderers branded as "The Lonely Hearts Killers" by the press. Con artists Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez played a con where Raymond would court women with wealth while Martha would act the role as a female relative of his to give him "respectability". Once they got the woman's money, they would disappear - sometimes after killing the unfortunate woman. (For more information about this case, I suggest you visit this site for a very detailed report.) If this true crime case description sounds somewhat familiar to you, it's probably because you have seen at least one of the previous cinematic tellings of this story. The most famous of these movies was the 1969 movie The Honeymoon Killers, which has become a cult classic. But the same true story was also told in the 1950 movie Lonely Heart Bandits, as well as the 1996 foreign movie Deep Crimson. The main difference between Lonely Hearts and those other movies is that Lonely Hearts spends some time showing the police pursuit of the two criminals. John Travolta and James Gandolfini play two homicide detectives trying to track down Martha (played by Salma Hayek) and Raymond (played by Jared Leto).

One of the things that interested me about this movie was that Travolta was playing a real-life person - his Elmer C. Robinson character was indeed a member of the police that investigated the case. Another thing that made me curious enough to rent this movie was that the writer/director of the movie, Todd Robinson, is the real-life grandson of Elmer C. Robinson. I was pretty sure that Todd Robinson learned a lot about the case from his grandfather while growing up, and that this could not only show us in detail how his grandfather and the other members of the police investigated the case, but also give us details about the two criminals that even people familiar with the case might not know. As you might expect, he portrays his grandfather in a generally good light. I'm sure he cast John Travolta in the role because Travolta has a real nice-guy air around him. But Travolta is actually pretty good in his role. Although Travolta has overacted in some of his past films, here he keeps his cool. He's a little numb in his actions and words, which is appropriate because his character's wife committed suicide in the recent past. He gets angry sometimes, but quickly calms down. This is because we can tell he wants to solve this case because he feels guilty, and resolving the case might make him find peace with himself and his estranged teenage son. While his character has been written with a few cliches that you often find in police films (initially his character knows something is wrong while his fellow cops don't buy his theories, and he is having an affair with a growing impatient woman), Travolta makes much of these cliches palatable by acting more normally instead of a pushy and loud protagonist you've seen a hundred times before.

The other actors in Lonely Hearts are also careful not to overdo it. Raymond is a sleazy bad guy, but Leto's performance shows this guy has easily provoked fears and other emotions, which he shows on several occasions during the course of the movie. There's more praise I can give to the screenplay, mainly when it has to do with the investigation of the crimes. Writer/director Robinson makes it pretty easy to follow his grandfather and his fellow cops as they take one clue and they follow it to another, and it's done in a way that keeps the audience interested. While I am not sure if the real life Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez were tracked down the way this movie portrays, you do get the feeling it could have happened this way. And as for Robinson's direction, he does give the movie a fairly good look and an acceptable period recreation, even though he didn't seem to have the resources to film big stuff like bustling street scenes. (At least he didn't have to film in Bulgaria, where Nu Image/ Millennium typically film their movies.) But despite these positive things, I must confess that overall I was disappointed with this movie. The faults lie not with the actors or the direction, but with Robinson's script. The first problem I had is that there are several subplots in the movie around Travolta's character that are never resolved. The grief he is suffering from his wife's suicide... the estrangement he has with his son... the female police officer he is secretly sleeping with that he's afraid to commit to... none of these subplots is ever resolved in a way that feels complete and with a definite resolution.

If those were the only problems I had with the screenplay, I probably would have forgiven the movie for them. Unfortunately, almost all of the screenplay's other problems can be blamed on one certain crucial mistake that Robinson made. And that was to focus on both the investigation and the criminals' activities. That is simply too much for a movie, even one lasting 108 minutes. While the investigation part of the movie is acceptable, the movie is seriously lacking when it focuses on the criminals. We never find out why someone as good-looking as Salma Hayek has to put an ad in a lonely hearts periodical. (The real Martha Beck was fat, unattractive, and saddled with two children.) We never find out why Hayek's character is attracted to Leto's character despite learning early on that he's a professional con artist. We never get one scene in the screenplay when these characters seriously talk to each other, or get seriously into why these two keep switching back and forth between love and hate towards the other. As a result, we can't generate any feelings, like hate or shock, towards the duo. They're just a bland duo that likes to bicker on occasion, and kill people because they just feel like it. It seems that Robinson must have felt there was a lack of explanation in the movie, because the first part of the movie and the last half hour have narration by Gandolfini explaining several details. Without this narration, this movie would build an even bigger question mark than it does now. The movie should have either completely focused on the investigation, or completely focused on the two criminals. While I can't call this movie a bad movie - I was never bored while watching it- it's likely that at the end you'll feel as unsatisfied as I felt. And with the superior Deep Crimson and The Honeymoon Killers freely available on DVD, there's no need to seek out Lonely Hearts.

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See also: Brigham City, Dr. Cook's Garden, Skeletons