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'Crash' leaves L.A. behind for Albuquerque

On the evening of May 20, Dr. Martin Higoyen Kelly -- a renowned 42-year-old plastic surgeon -- was found dead in the doorway of his London home by a doctor friend.

It was the day after his 10th wedding anniversary. His wife, at the time, was pregnant with their third child and was working in America.

Kelly was considered a physically vigorous man with no major health problems. A couple of days later, it was determined he'd died of dilated cardiomyopathy. Natural causes, then.

Case closed.

Except for one thing -- his wife is beautiful actress Natascha McElhone, co-star of Showtime's riotously raunchy comedy "Californication," the nomination of some of us for the funniest show on television.

If, therefore, you had been lulled into any vague sense of "Californication's" uncanny resemblance to reality by star David Duchovny's very real stint in rehab for sex addiction (and subsequent announcement of marital separation from Tea Leoni), there was the very real plight of McElhone to remind you of the yawning distances that usually exist between actors and their roles.

Very little on this earth could be more different than being fictional hound dog writer Hank Moody's perennially exasperated girlfriend on "Californication" and a London plastic surgeon's widow expecting her third child.

Believe me, the facts will come as a tiny shock as you watch McElhone's performance in "Californication" on Sunday nights.

Among the very real things so good about the show seemed to be its real sense of a randy Eastern writer's alienation from the real culture of total phoniness thought to exist in L.A.

A strange place, L.A. And courtesy of a wonderful wave of writers on film and TV, no more "tinseltown" either. In fact, we've been getting something resembling a true sense of the city, its denizens and history ever since Robert Towne's scripts for "Chinatown" and "Tequila Sunrise."

Few movies ever gave us more of a sense of reality in the daily life of L.A. than Paul Haggis' exceptional movie "Crash."

It extended to an interview I did with Haggis before the film opened. Common to most of us who talked to him was Haggis' story about the film having its origins in the very real Angeleno carjacking of Haggis and his wife.

What none of us knew -- or were told -- was that Haggis, in fact, had a heart attack in the middle of filming.

I learned that fact a week after the film opened and Sandra Bullock -- one of "Crash's" stars -- was interviewed on a late night talk show and casually talked about the director having a heart attack in the middle of the shoot and her subsequent mock-guilt about "giving the director a heart attack." So much for directorial candor.

The Starz network's almost-universally deplored new series based on "Crash," is in fact, so foreign to the L.A. life it supposedly and faithfully presented that, except for the occasional exterior, the whole show was filmed in Albuquerque.

At this point, you have to wonder why bells didn't go off all over the place long before the series ever started shooting. If you're doing a show whose deepest purpose is to give you the very real, racially charged flavor of a city that has been obscured by tinseltown fantasy for so many decades, (as was the movie's original laudable purpose), surely you'd suspect a problem if you're filming the show in Albuquerque.

It's a ridiculous TV show but I must confess I found two plotlines promising in the show's overflowing bowl of plotlines. One gave Dennis Hopper, playing a record producer, a chance to do an offshoot of his jabbering, gas gulping psychotic monster in "Blue Velvet." His role in TV's version of "Crash" calls for him to pull a knife on business associates in his limo when he's not engaging in acts of onanism in the very same car and talking to his private parts in vocabulary taken from short stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

The other promising subplot -- which quickly turned to cinders in Episode Two -- presented us with a wiseguy Angeleno cop whose car collides with a ridiculously hot (in the Paris Hilton sense) Latina, thereby explaining the title.

Haggis has not been particularly lucky on TV, of late. His own series "The Black Donnellys" was TV noir so dark that, after a few weeks of it, you were ready to switch to the Cartoon Network. In "Crash's" pilot, Hopper, as the impossible, profane maniac record producer, requested a glass of water from his personal assistant. The fellow served it to his boss in a glass with lots of flowers. Said his demanding employer, before returning it to his assistant, "this water is too busy."

I can't wait to see if the show's producers create a TV show that gives us the real life of Albuquerque -- and film it, of course, in L.A.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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