The scenery outweighs the story in Matt Dillon's directorial debut.

Somewhere east of the heart of darkness (deep in the left ventricle of evil, perhaps? Or by the spleen?), an American con man, played by Matt Dillon, complains that there's a monkey in his Phnom Penh hotel room. He didn't pay for the monkey; he wanted air-conditioning instead; and the little simian even stole his dark glasses. The hotelier (GĂ©rard Depardieu) is not impressed by the complaints; to him, crumbling in the heat and humidity with his hotel, the monkey's a bonuslike a cable channel that mysteriously works and you're getting for free.

In his directorial debut, City of Ghosts (which opens Friday, May 9 at the Metro), Dillon shares Depardieu's same friendly shrugging-shoulders lassitude. Ghosts is not an original or well-told crime movie, but it does takes time to appreciate the scenery. Dillon's character is on the lam from American authorities following a big insurance-fraud scam. He's after his share of the loot from his boss (James Caan, who looks enormously pleased to make an entrance wearing a saronglike Brando in Apocalypse Now minus 200 pounds). There's a girl (Natascha McElhone from Solaris), and there are several oh-so-predictable plot twists before Dillon's mug eventually discovers What's Truly Important in Life.

Siddhartha it's not, but a crook's crooked path to enlightenment needn't be taken too seriously. In addition to the monkey, there's a python (room service!), a gang of Russian mobsters, and a gaggle of Lonely Planet guide waste cases who take our hero to a moonlight rave in the ruins. Evidently a Southeast Asian trekker between his movie projects, Dillon seems to have cobbled the script together from things he has seen, experienced, and read. Then, one feels, it rained really, really hard on that script, seriously blurring the ink, and Dillon never got the pages to come unstuck.

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