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Thursday, July 31, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 74.0° F  Fair
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Charlie Sheen, train wreck: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III crashes and burns

Desperation trumps compassion.
Desperation trumps compassion.
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Films as spectacularly wrongheaded as the comedy A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III don't come along very often. It's bad. I hardly know where to start.

I guess I'll start at the beginning. The first scene is one of many fantasy sequences. The title character (Charlie Sheen) meets with a doctor, but this is an unconventional examination. In animated flourishes, colorful images explode out of Charles' head.

Many of the images are of naked women. These are the first of many naked and nearly naked women we will see. The effect is a little like the HBO comedy Entourage, in which scantily clad ladies seem to randomly drift in and out of the frame. The difference is that from time to time, Entourage is about characters who are recognizably human. I'm not sure what planet iCharles Swan III is from.

I suppose I should attempt a plot summary. In Los Angeles, in what I judge from the length of the sideburns is the 1970s, Charles Swan is a graphic designer. He also is a womanizer and a sybarite. In an early scene, his girlfriend, Ivana (Katheryn Winnick), breaks up with him. In doing this, she throws shoes and shrieks. At some point he ends up in the hospital. From time to time his sister (Patricia Arquette) wanders in, as does his shaggy friend Kirby (Jason Schwartzman), a comedian. Bill Murray is kind of funny as Charles' business manager. Charles puts his face in a can of caviar. There's a big party. There's a marionette that looks like Charlie Sheen.

Sorry, that plot summary went nowhere. The movie is not easily described, and I don't mean like a Kubrick film. There are numerous flashbacks and a handful of musical numbers. Many of the dialogue scenes feel curiously underwritten. The film bears a family resemblance to 10, the fine Blake Edwards comedy about a Los Angeles man who has a crisis in his 40s.

Charles Swan III was written and directed by Roman Coppola, son of Francis. Roman cowrote some of Wes Anderson's films, and I see the Anderson style in the mannered design and stilted line readings. But Anderson gets at many wonderful truths in his movies. He is a compassionate artist. I don't sense much compassion in Charles Swan III. I sense desperation.

Then there is Sheen, smirking his way through another role. You know what I used to like him in? The 1990s sitcom Spin City. He replaced Michael J. Fox and was funny and charming in scenes with Heather Locklear. That seems like a long time ago.

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