Nearly three decades years after Richard Gere cavorted glumly through his American Gigolo, director Paul Schrader once again casts a cold, dispassionate eye on another preening peacock of a man whose companionship and time do not come cheap in the disappointing new drama The Walker. As if to overcompensate for not being allowed to explore the title character's homosexuality in his 1984 masterpiece Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, Schrader here dips deep into the Big Book Of Gay Stereotypes for his lead character—a vain, fussily groomed, impeccably attired font of bitchy one-liners and acerbic remarks with a tortured relationship with his father and serious self-hatred issues. As played by a miscast Woody Harrelson, he comes off like a watered-down version of the tragic queen archetype. So instead of climactically committing suicide while Verdi swells in the background, he frowns a lot, seems mildly depressed, takes no joy in his facile cleverness, and is cold and non-committal to his nice boyfriend.
A paper-thin character study undermined by a convoluted conspiracy thriller, The Walker casts Harrelson as the well-bred scion of a prominent political dynasty who serves as mascot, pet, and professional companion to a coven of prominent Washington D.C. society women, played by Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin, and Kristin Scott Thomas, among others. But when Harrelson becomes implicated in the murder of Thomas' lover, he discovers just how tenuous friendship can be in a cutthroat community like D.C. under the Bush administration.
The Walker is neither good nor bad enough. The political material is muddled and obvious, and its lead character is both underdeveloped and overly familiar. Yet the film is never fun or over-the-top enough to unleash the considerable camp potential of Woody Harrelson playing a toupee-sporting dandy who is never more than a few minutes away from turning into Blanche Dubois. As in the similarly underwhelming American Gigolo, Schrader lingers lovingly on sleek, seductive exteriors as a way of getting into a superficial lead's tortured interior. But there's a black void where the film's soul should be. Like its protagonist, The Walker is handsome and moderately amusing on the outside, but empty and hollow on the inside.