Remember Charlie Sheen?

He has returned, this time in a film written/directed by Roman Coppola (son of Francis), playing a character who is most certainly Charlie Sheen. As much as one may desire to view a film without being conscious of the images TMZ painted of an actor two years ago, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III does not permit the audience to move on. Sheen doesn’t want you to forget and neither does Coppola, who has no problem handing this story over to Sheen’s association and fleeting, gossipy fascination. 

Sometimes when films are directly inspired by their lead actors, there’s a balance to the meta quality of such a story. For example, there was last summer’s Magic Mike, which was about the non-fictional life of Channing Tatum as a male stripper. However, while Magic Mike might have bits of Tatum’s reality in the film, the movie was able to stand as its own text. This movie, laboriously self-indulgent title and all, is all about Charlie Sheen, and it is certainly indirectly all about why Sheen is not relevant anymore; either as a film actor, or a headline desperate for relevancy. Simply put, Sheen would not be in this lead role were it not for the tabloid subtext he brings to the film; this isn’t so much a star vehicle, but another opportunity for Sheen to attempt to command attention, with a character that shares his initials, and goes by “Charlie” much more than Charles.

The power of celebrity is an endlessly fascinating fairy-tale, especially with films that come from within the industry (the first credit for Charles Swan III is that it is filmed in Hollywood, CA). Here, the film is working with a former pop culture obsession, a director very familiar with the effects that success in Hollywood can have on one’s personal life and a cast with the ability to provide more than one pigment each to such a story (as with the underwhelming appearances by Stephen Dorff, Patricia Arquette, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aubrey Plaza). Yet despite such promising construction, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is the opposite of a compelling celebrity moment, it is a botched artistic statement that makes for one more unproductive sham in Sheen’s anti-legacy.

Sheen’s Swan is a character who hardly sounds unbelievable; a narcissistic womanizer, whose lust is continuously satisfied by the anonymous younger women who seem magnetically drawn to him. Even after finding the supposed love of his life, Ivana (Katheryn Winnick) he keeps moving from one such woman to the next. When Ivana discovers Charlie’s drawers full of nude Polaroids of past bed mates, she leaves him, causing him to enter what one might assume is going to be a “downfall.” After crashing his car in a pool, graphic designer Swan goes to the hospital and consults with his friends, comedian Kirby (Jason Schwartzman) and Saul (Bill Murray). With the help of Kirby, Charlie decides that it would be best to spy on Ivana and see if she has been cheating on him with someone else.

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As he talks to his friends, we get a “glimpse” of Charlie’s innermost thoughts, including a death fantasy in which the women he has previously romanced all stand over his grave and mourn him. He then comes back from the dead to tap dance with them. (We are frankly surprised Chuck Lorre has not yet filed suit . . . )

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is a thoroughly frustrating misfire; if there is a sense of humor to be found in the film concerning its subject matter, Sheen’s narcissism, the apparently desired sarcasm ends up nonexistent. While the film is aware of the silliness of its presentation, it still ultimately believes that sympathy is still a viable concept for embracing Sheen/Swan, despite his unyielding flaws and even his poor acting (a third act final plea by Sheen is unbearably flat). Like watching the characters of Sex and the City 2 cry over expensive clothes in a recession-era film, there is no strong sense of parody in this foolish film. Instead, it is what it is: woe is Sheen/Swan, he can’t keep the “right” girl despite the apparent endless number who for him and his “art” suffers from it. Coppola’s script, as guided by an actor not strong enough to carry real drama on his own, is stagnant; much more empowering to the pop culture juggernaut that is “public meltdown” Charlie Sheen than, in any way, exploratory.

Swan, Sheen fails to win over the audience or gain our sympathy. Instead he only continues to promote the negative notions he wants audiences to carry with them. In a film that shows neither an explanation for such ugliness, or a fulfilling solution to, there is nothing to enjoy about Swan as he wallows in his narcissism. The actor is even out-performed by a puppet imitation of himself, who hints at something slightly more meaningful about Swan’s existence than Sheen constantly hiding behind sunglasses at all hours of the day, flubbing emotional moments. One does not have to look too long at Sheen’s performance to understand his difficulty with meaningful dialogue delivery, especially in the rare moments in this film when it actually counts 

This is one of many places in which Coppola’s riffing on Italian director Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2) goes wrong; Coppola certainly has his playboy, but Sheen ain’t no Marcello Mastroianni (an Italian actor slick and smart like Clooney who provided emotional meat on top of his presentations of incorrigible playboy dominance). Despite the many scenes that are focused entirely on his character, Sheen is an extremely dull presence. An actor who can only hide behind sunglasses for so long, he provides no depth to his surrogate, instead keeping everything frustratingly on the surface, heading in one direction. There is no conflict, irony, or surprising change of course for Swan throughout this story, he is just a scumbag. The end. 

***EDITORIAL COMMENT:  For the record, Chuck Lorre, who appears to be neither a fool nor a troll, took Charlie Sheen and created a show and wrote dialogue that was, simply, comedy gold in the form of a half hour sitcom. It appears that Roman Coppola thought that either (a) the success of Two and a Half Men was somehow related to Charlie Sheen or (b) he could successfully “borrow” Chuck Lorre’s concept and translate it to a feature length film. Roman Coppola: you are no Chuck Lorre.***

Indeed, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are in the movie and they are both channeling the wackiness best bestowed on them by bit parts in Wes Anderson movies (most recently with Moonrise Kingdom, which Coppola co-wrote). If any hope of comedy can be found in Charles Swann, it is with these two characters, who do not offer the film any stability, only more goofy costumes. Schwartzman is overshadowed by his afro and big beard, while Murray just moves in and out of the movie, coasting, as in his previous performances (even in Hyde Park on Hudson, Murray is just letting his charisma control his gravity). Considering these past roles, these two actors seem to have an awareness of their potential for silliness and a grasp of the limits to not being taken seriously. This is the difference between them and lead focus Sheen; Sheen is aware of the silliness of the movie, but is not talented enough, nor in possession of a unique screen presence, that would allow him to simply “coast.”


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Roman Coppola’s script is a strange extension of the Sheen spirit, it too is desperate for an audience’s attention, despite consistently providing examples proving that there is nothing really being said in this film. Coppola’s visual centerpieces, his flashy fantasy sequences with costumes, sets and attempted snark, are shout-outs to the aforementioned Fellini and are large and extensive in length. But they are plainly funny gags built from simple jokes. However inspired such “imaginative” storytelling may be, such sequences only provide distraction from the fact that barely anything is happening below the surface of Charles Swan III.

It seems like a millennium ago in Twitter feed years that American pop culture became fascinated with its latest train wreck and allowed the conductor Charlie Sheen to captivate audiences with his tragedy as if we had all forgotten the fate of Howard Beale at the end of Network. (It is entirely unnecss to even name-drop Sheen’s T-shirt friendly sayings, so they shall be avoided.) But, it’s these hashtags that fuel the attitude of Charles Swan, albeit watered down in Coppola’s vapid pop art landscape. Here is Sheen’s artsy rendition of his version of celebrity, supported by a filmmaker who sees Sheen’s “meltdown” as a canvas for pop art, targeted at a contemporary audience. Nonetheless, such an attempt comes with many failed expressions. Andy Warhol’s soup cans have more charisma than most of what is presented in this movie, including its star.

Den of Geek Rating: 1 Out of 5 stars