Vikar (James Franco) goes to Hollywood to find the movies but finds only the people who make them. Ain’t that a shame. On the back of his head is a tattoo of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. There are two reasons for that. One: A Place in the Sun isn’t just Vikar’s favorite movie, but it was the first movie he ever saw—and he only saw it recently. Two: Vikar is a bit dense, evident before he opens his mouth by his pervasive squint, which seems always to be saying, “I don’t know what’s happening right now, but, damn it, I’m trying.” Viewers of Zeroville, directed by Franco, may develop a similar squint.
As Vikar falls up the Hollywood ladder—beginning as a talentless tourist and ending up an editor on a major film, through no conscious doing of his own—you start to wonder whether the movie began as a legitimate venture and only later became a farce. In other words, were things going so bad that Franco eventually decided to lean into the bad, like when you trip and pretend that you meant to trip. Why anyone would intentionally trip is beyond me, as is the reason why anyone would intentionally make a bad movie. For laughs? Okay, but Zeroville isn’t funny when it’s trying to be or when it’s not trying to be. Two instances with Craig Robinson stand out as being major wastes of time. He’s a burglar who Vikar invites to stay over because the bond over movies and Sunset Boulevard is on. It’s funny because you’d never invite a burglar to stay over, I think. The only truly funny moment is the ending, but that’s only because you’ve cut the movie some slack up to that point and don’t expect something so abrasively stupid.
“Vikar goes to Hollywood to find the movies, but finds only the people who make them. Ain’t that a shame.”
Putting it in the kindest possible terms, the movie could be passed off as an exercise in style. Because of this, it does manage to be watchable. As a rule, this is because obscure crap is far more digestible than the crap that plays it straight. It’s why people prefer Jackson Pollock over fruit baskets. This doesn’t help Vikar, however, who remains a vacuous protagonist. You want to know more about him, but Franco is content to present him as an avatar for something—I don’t know what. Characters talk at him mostly, like he’s a house pet. What’s weirder is that he’s surrounded by real-life figures. Seth Rogen plays John Milius—not buying it—and some of the other California crew of that era make appearances, as well. When Spielberg mentions he’s thinking about making a movie about a shark—nudge, nudge—Lucas suggests it be a robot shark. Again with the jokes.
According to some shallow internet research, Zeroville was filmed before The Disaster Artist. Was making a cruddy movie some sort of method technique for channeling Tommy Wiseau, such as when Pacino would pull people over to get into Frank Serpico? Both Franco movies involve an oddball with his head in the Hollywood clouds, clumsily chasing stardom. The big difference is that Zeroville doesn’t have the strong character base of the other movie. Vikar is just a weird guy left out to dry on a plotline.