Even if the notorious 1970s porn-filmmaking milieu doesn't exactly turn you on, don't let it turn you off to this movie's extraordinary virtues, either. "Boogie Nights" is one of the key movies of the 1990s and among the most ambitious and exuberantly alive American movies in years. It's also the breakthrough for an amazing new director, whose dazzling kaleidoscopic style here recalls the Robert Altman of "Nashville" and the Martin Scorsese of "Good Fellas".
Although loosely based on the sleazy life and times of real-life porn legend John Holmes, at heart it's a classic Hollywood rise-and-fall fable: a naive, good-looking young busboy is discovered in a San Fernando Valley disco by a famous motion picture producer, becomes a hotshot movie star, lives the high life and then loses everything when he gets too big for his britches, succumbs to insobriety and is left behind by new times and new technology.
Of course, it isn't exactly "A Star Is Born" or "Singin' in the Rain". Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (in only his second feature) puts his own affectionately sardonic twist on the old showbiz biopic formula: the ambitious upstart changes his name and achieves stardom in porno films as "Dirk Diggler". Instead of drinking to excess, he snorts cocaine (the classic drug of 70s hedonism); and it's the coming of home video (rather than talkies) that helps to dash his big-screen dreams. As for the britches, well, the controversial "money shot" explains everything. And the cast is one of the great ensembles of the 90s, including Oscar nominees Burt Reynolds and Julianne Moore, Mark Wahlberg (who really can act--from the waist up, too!), Heather Graham (as Rollergirl), William H Macy, John C Reilly and Ricky Jay. "--Jim Emerson"