Who would have ever guessed that you could have made a successful comedy set in a nazi prison camp? Bob Crane did just that as the star of Hogan's Heroes, a successful sitcom that aired back in the 1960's. Auto Focus is about the true-life story of Bob Crane, excellently played by Greg Kinnear.
Auto Focus is by no means a tribute to Cane however, it depicts his life of sex and adultery that he was addicted to. Director Paul Schrader did an outstanding job of bringing the 60's back, but concentrated on what was taboo, the raunchy life style that you never knew existed during the Brady Bunch years.
Bob starts off as a father of three and happily married to his first wife, Anne (Rita Wilson). But Bob becomes infatuated with the swingers life and neglects his family. It gets worse when Rita finds his stack of filthy pictures and degrading magazines. She confronts him on the issue that they never spend time together, but Crane thinks nothing of it. He has become possessed, and is hungry for women that can do things his wife can not touch.
While on the set preparing for a new episode shoot, Bob meets John Carpenter, (Willem Dafoe) an electronics techie who is always the first person to get his hands on the latest video technology before anyone knows about its existence. "This timer allows you to record a show right from the TV whenever you set it to do so!" John brags in his latest pitch to Crane. They become good friends, and start a life of club hopping, together. They are only with each other whenever scoring or watching porn, which may suggest their friendship isn't as strong as it appears on paper.
Crane did not always live the dark life style. He was led on by John, who when they first met, took him to a strip club for a drink. Instead of paying attention to the strippers, Crane focused his attention on the live band, specifically the drummer. Before doing Hogan's Heroes, Crane was a radio disk jockey and was an enthusiastic drummer. He was offered the chance to sit-in as the drummer for the next routine as a one-time offer, and ended up there every night.
But at this point, Crane isn't completely hooked. If I liked anything about this movie, it is the way Kinnear showed the slow degrading of Crane's character, who probably would have continued to be the wholesome, sweater wearing family man until John came into his life. Crane still has a conscious at this point, and it leads him to a conversation with his priest about his sinful ways. The priest then suggests that Crane sit-in for the parish band, but that only leads him to a different strip club.
Crane and Carpenter would find girls and bring them back to one of their places for a night of fun. Carpenter would often play with his electronic toys by videotaping all of their sessions. When they weren't bringing girls home, they were going to swapping parties and reading swinger's magazines. When it was all over for the night, Crane would go home to his wife and kids.
Midway through the film, Crane's decency has completely vanished. It was first a matter of letting John chose who would be pared with which woman, until Crane began taking advantage of his power as a TV star, and did the choosing for himself.
The only likable character is Crane's manager, Lenny (Ron Leibman). He got him the job on Hogan's Heroes, as well as his other gigs. He warns Crane that Disney might not appreciate his perverse life style after offering him the lead in "Superdad."
But Crane never takes his advice. He is warped in a world that was probably the result of the end of his career after Hogan's Heroes. Auto Focus is simply a sad movie about a sad and desperate man who looked confused when a TV cooking show audience grew angry after he made a derogatory comment to one of the spectators.
Auto Focus is a well made movie with great acting. But it's too sleazy to be likable. I could only wonder if the people who walked out of the movie knew what they were in for. I don't think the elderly fans of Crane were prepared for the high number of sex scenes and swinging orgies. I usually like 'based on the life of' films, but I don't see the purpose when the character being portrayed is as despicable and unlikable person. It's a depressing movie that can't be saved the good filmmaking and good acting.
Kinnear wanted to get the point across that Crane was a deviant man who became a monster stemmed from his addiction. But he beat the dead horse in doing so. Even Dafoe, who is Hollywood's Villain, (Spiderman, Speed 2: Cruise Control) was too wicked for my taste.
Auto Focus is supposed to be a documentary on the life of an entertainer, but it neglects major events in Crane's life that would have fit into the movie. For example, he once had his own TV show that bombed hard, but this movie is too busy; too focused on the sex and events that have been overdone, long after the point was made. There's no room in Auto Focus for variety and non-offending events that occurred in Crane's life.
Maybe Auto Focus would have been more enjoyable had the screenplay auto focused on other aspects of Crane's life. This movie is proof that Hollywood is only interested in shock value when it comes to telling the life of a former celebrity. If it isn't going to move you and make you cry, it must make you shake your head in disgust and make you feel down-right dirty.