ZERO STARS/**** Image D+ Sound C-
starring Horst Buccholz, Martin Held, Maria Perschv, Gert Frobe
screenplay by Will Tremper
directed by Frank Wisbar
by Walter Chaw Unbearably padded with stock footage and stilted segues around the alleged intrigue of newspaper ethics, Frank Wisbar's abominable Wet Asphalt might discover contemporary relevance for the conceit that a lie about war becomes the biggest story in the world--but probably only if you're so blinded by rage that the picture's shortcomings are secondary. Directed by the obscure Frank Wisbar and starring the recalcitrant punk (Horst Buchholz) from The Magnificent Seven and One, Two, Three, the film follows the trials of a ghost-written young reporter who gets his name attached to a bit of nonsense about Germans living underground after the war. Maybe it's an offshoot of the apocryphal tales of Japanese soldiers crawling out of the Pacific bush years after VJ-Day; more likely, it's the product of a belief that cheapo genre horseshit like this would earn its investment back before people got wise and stayed away in droves. Oh, and there's also some claptrap revolving around a perfunctory love story with wallpaper Bettina (Maria Perschy), to say nothing of the sitting room moralizations with smarmy boss Cesar (Martin Held).
The story is relentlessly ridiculous, the characters have no recognizably human motivation to do the things they do, and as the tall tale spreads amongst the muckety-mucks of the world's free press, the rationalizations for going forward with reportage are pathetic at best. I want to condemn the whole thing as fantasy, except that the modern mass news media machine seems exactly this corrupt, clueless, and desperate for a splash of the big scoop. Yet despite that, Wet Asphalt is still a screaming piece of crap, because no matter how far journalistic standards have reduced themselves to this nihilistic vision, I have a hard time swallowing the earnestness with which the competing editors treat this bombshell and rush their own versions of the fiction into the collective--and not with skepticism and a desire to debunk, James Frey-like, what's clearly a load of bologna. Exposing it all as a fiction is an even bigger story, isn't it?
But should anyone attempt to do the obvious, it'd leave our fearless hero with nowhere to go. It's that contrivance, that alleged industry naivety, that grates the most--that plus the ridiculous camerawork, which reminds, if it reminds of anything, of the old Toho Godzilla films, complete with insane zooms. That being said, hero Buchholz--shaking his fist like a monkey who looks a little like James Dean--isn't exactly easy on the nerves.
Not helping things, of course, is the fact that Dark Sky's fullscreen DVD presentation is an extraordinarily shoddy piece of work that contains a surplus of combing, moiré problems, and pulses of grain and light. Dubbed a "lost noir" (and dubbed appallingly from German into English), it follows no noir conventions that I could discern--the confusion stemming either honestly from a belief that twirling newspaper headlines make it eligible for genre consideration, or from the far more likely dishonest belief that slapping "lost" and "noir" on the cover of a picture that is neither will dupe a handful of folks into taking a flyer on it between legitimate noir titles from Fox, Warners, and Universal. I suppose it's possible to view it as a camp example of how not to dub a film, but better to spend your life on a good movie. Wet Asphalt should have been a satire instead of a thriller--failing that, it should have been recycled for the celluloid. No special features adorn the disc--something to do with money, I'd bet, or moreover with the fact that one would be hard-pressed to find anyone able or willing to suss something "special" from the whole mess. Inexplicably, however, the disc does come with optional English subtitles. Originally published: April 12, 2006.