‘Mind’ offers insight into eccentric’s dull life

San Francisco ChronicleFebruary 22, 2013 

A movie calling itself “A Glimpse Into the Mind of Charles Swan III” is saying implicitly that it depicts a mind worth glimpsing. The mind might be notably weird, notably brilliant or notably appalling; but whatever it is, the movie is trying to tell us that it’s worth taking the journey into it, if only for a quick look around.

That was probably writer-director Roman Coppola’s main responsibility in “Charles Swan,” to give the audience a character worth watching. Get that right, and everything else falls into place. Get that wrong, and the audience finds out just how long 84 minutes can be. The answer: really long.

In the movie’s first scene, Charlie’s much younger girlfriend (Katheryn Winnick) leaves him after finding photos of herself in a drawer commingled with nude pictures of Charlie’s previous women. Charles (Charlie Sheen) is angry at her for leaving, but he is still in love with her. Twenty minutes later, after flashbacks and fantasy depictions of Charles’s daydreams, he observes to a close friend that he is enraged at his girlfriend, but that he is still in love with her. And then a half hour later, after more sound and fury signifying nothing, he has the original insight that he’s enraged at his girlfriend, but he’s still in love with her.

See the problem? For all the title’s assertion that this is a mind worth visiting, Charles has a way of repeating himself. For all the commotion Coppola is able introduce, and side characters such as Bill Murray as the business manager (he’s funny no matter what he does) and Patricia Arquette as Charlie’s sister, the story has no forward motion and no rooting interest: Charles is a creep. Even if he were played by someone besides Sheen, we’d see that within three minutes. As it stands, it takes two minutes to figure it out and another 80 minutes to be rid of him.

For just one example of the peculiar inadequacy of the screenplay, Jason Schwartzman plays a comedian, and we’re shown part of his act. From the response he gets, it’s supposed to be a good part of the act, but there isn’t a laugh in it.

Schwartzman doesn’t have the delivery of a professional comedian, but with decent material that could have been overcome. Instead he is hung out to dry with a bit about women sending in missile strikes when their boyfriends flirt with other women. To call it misogynist would give it too much importance. It’s more like awkward.

The casting of Sheen as serial ladies’ man, two years after he talked about his “tiger’s blood” and life with his two “goddesses,” comes across as a pitch to play off the similarities between real life and fiction.

Actually, Sheen can act. But he can’t make Swan interesting, and Swan can’t make Sheen interesting. The only question is who comes out worse in the exchange.

“A Glimpse Into the Mind of Charles Swan III” is rated R and is showing at the State Theatre.

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