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DVD review: ‘A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III’

Dennis King Published: May 17, 2013

Given the shagadelic looks and shaggy-dog content of his few films, Roman Coppola would seem to inhabit a world of peppy people and glossy pop-art surfaces. In his work as co-writer with Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Darjeeling Limited”) and in his one previous outing as feature director (2001’s kicky “CQ”), this arty scion of the Coppola dynasty has demonstrated an abiding affinity for kooky characters and vibrant storybook tableaux.

As son of “Godfather” Francis and brother of prolific princess Sophia, Roman springs from a heady lineage of filmmaking royalty – one that allows him to indulge a taste for whimsy that, without the anchoring gravity of Wes Anderson by his side, threatens to dither off into the ether and tends to render his work all surface and little substance.

Such is the case with “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,” Coppola’s retro-hipster homage to the ’70s Playboy lifestyle fused with a feeble attempt to rehabilitate the film career of Charlie Sheen.

Sheen emerges from his tiger-blood lunacy to play the title character, a 1970s superstar designer of album covers who is suffering a midlife crisis since his girlfriend (Katheryn Winnick) dumped him. After an aimless life of playboy debauchery (drugs, booze, fame, money and marathon bouts of sex with countless vixens), Sheen, err, Swan suddenly goes into an emotional tailspin and begins to re-examine his pitiful existence.

Lending offbeat moral support on this self-indulgent swan song is Swan’s best pal, frizzy-haired comic Kirby Star (Jason Schwartzman), dizzy novelist sister Izzy (Patricia Arquette), hangdog business manager Saul (Bill Murray) and design partner Marnie (Aubrey Plaza).

Coppola folds in cutesy fantasy sequences and an animated-collage view of Swan’s babe-addled brain to ratchet up the level of fancy. But mostly he just seems to be noodling around with no particular plot or central idea in mind.

It all looks very stylish and kitschy and precocious and dear. And the top-shelf cast performs with a blitheness and drollness appropriate to the thing – especially the insouciant Sheen, whose frat-boy charms are definitely showing their age.

Unfortunately, everything here feels like it was borrowed from the Wes Anderson playbook, but without the underlying heart and philosophical rigor that keep that filmmaker’s pictures from slopping over into preciousness. At this point, Coppola just doesn’t possess the weight to give his lighter-than-air conceits a necessary grounding.  “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III” reveals a brain obsessed with stylish tchotchkes but devoid of ideas.

- Dennis King