‘Zeroville’ Review: An Innocent Finds a New Religion

A raft of marquee names — including Seth Rogen, James Franco and Will Ferrell — can’t save “Zeroville,” a maddeningly surreal head trip through Hollywood history and movie-fan insanity.

Whatever the merits of its source material (Steve Erickson’s well-received 2007 novel), this Franco-filled project — aside from directing, he’s in virtually every scene, for the most part near-catatonic — is painful to sit through. Playing an ex-seminarian known as Vikar, Franco is so obsessed with film in general and George Stevens’s 1951 classic, “A Place in the Sun,” in particular that he has its stars tattooed on his shaven skull.

Over the course of “Zeroville,” which stumbles from 1969 to the early 1980s, Vikar will rise improbably from set builder to award-winning editor in an industry heaving with bold new blood. It’s pointless, however, to critique Franco’s or anyone else’s performance, because the film has no developed characters. Vikar is merely a blank slate for Hollywood to inscribe, a zealot woodenly parroting others’ opinions. Both Rogen’s cocksure screenwriter and Ferrell’s honkingly crass studio executive are one-note caricatures. And Megan Fox’s role as a sex bomb yearning to be taken seriously as an actor is not exactly a stretch.

Shelved for four years when its original distributor went out of business, “Zeroville” has a handful of cute moments: Craig Robinson as a garrulous, movie-loving mugger; Mia Serafino as Ali MacGraw repeatedly botching the most famous line in “Love Story.” The cinematic name-checking is relentless — at one point, Vikar is rushed to the Philippines to rescue-edit “Apocalypse Now” — yet there are no ideas to engage with and no one to like. In common with Vikar, “Zeroville” is empty behind the eyes.


Rated R for aggressive cinephilia and a smattering of naked breasts. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes.


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