If you're looking for relief from traditional holiday movies, you couldn't do better than one about Charles Bukowski, right? Well, maybe. Bukowski is not an easy package to wrap up. Firstl, he was not in the slightest a handsome fella, even by the new movie star standard of rough-looking guys like Russell Crowe and Colin Farrell. Flabby and badly pockmarked, he might have been the only person R. Crumb improved by drawing. Bent Hamer's "Factotum" tries to look appropriately dingy. It even has Matt Dillon, playing Bukowski's alter-ego Henry Chinaski, uglied up like Charlize Theron was in "Monster."
The book was a follow-up to "Post Office," an improved read since it concentrated on what was best about Bukowski's prose his descriptions of being poor, of menial labor and the avoidance of it. The movie begins rather abruptly in the frozen wasteland of a boring job, with Chinaski schlepping across Los Angeles with a truckload of ice. It is one position of many we will see him have and quickly lose, important only insomuch as it is unimportant. The only things he manages to hold down for any reasonable duration are a steady supply of beer bottles and his girlfriend Jan (Lili Taylor), a pale, scrawny creature, who in the movie looks like she's been peeled to the subcutaneous layer.
The movie has its share of funny and insightful moments, but it will disappoint anyone who's loved Bukowski's writing. The filmmakers seem to mean well, but they haven't quite gotten the material, or have failed to convey it. Their Chinaski is alternately a clown and some kind of Zen drunk, either the butt of a joke or a punching bag with a grimace. That isn't the same sense you get from the narrator in the novel, who is more like a guy who sees life in a uniquely honest way, which makes his observations really funny. Chinaski is indolent, but he isn't lazy. And he's not a joke, but a guy who sees everything that way a fact that should have been obvious since he's the one telling the funny stories. (R) ** S