Curiously flat biopic about Bob Crane, the disc jockey-turned actor best remembered for three things: starring in the TV series Hogan's Heroes, videotaping himself having sex with scores of women, and being murdered in 1979, days before his fiftieth birthday.
Auto Focus mostly examines the relationship Crane had with John Carpenter (not the film director), who introduced him to both the swinging lifestyle and the burgeoning home video technology that Crane took to like a moth to a flame.
Greg Kinnear, who has cornered the market on playing glib narcissists, finds his Hamlet in Bob Crane, and he does a fine job. Equally good, as usual, is Willem Dafoe as the creepy, troubled Carpenter. But what's the point of the film? Crane is such a footnote that it seems silly to make a serious picture about him. And although his kinky obsessions make for potentially incendiary material, Schrader depicts him as little more than a shallow sleazebag. And the definitely weird friendship between Crane and Carpenter is played out all rather ordinarily, with little suspense leading up to Crane's inevitable murder (which, though still unsolved in the real world, seems to be a cut-and-dried case in this film – think American Beauty).
As in all biopics, important facts are ignored and truths are bent, so all we're left with is the depiction of one man's sexual addiction. Here Schrader (with screenwriter Michael Gerbosi) makes a big mistake: since we never get to like Crane as a person, we feel nothing as he spirals into that addiction. And since we're not shown that there could be something fun or sexy about Crane's kink in the first place – it just looks pathetic – we can't sympathize with his descent.
Kinnear-as-Crane often defends his actions with a "What's the problem? It's just sex!" – and he has a point. Although Crane cheated on his wife, it's otherwise hard to get huffy about what happens between consensual adults. Crane did become addicted to sex, and the fun obviously drained away once it became an obsessive act for him and for his cameraman/pimp/hero-worshipper Carpenter (the film reflects this rather sophomorically by altering its visual style from clean, candy-colored static shots during Crane's golden days to dark, gritty, hand-held camerawork at the end), but Schrader's sexual politics remain suspiciously reactionary: he even inserts a scene in which one of Crane's lovers doesn't know he's taping her, so we can really think he's a creep.
In any event, it's all so insignificant that, unless you are a huge Hogan's Heroes fan, there's nothing unmissable about Auto Focus.