It's hard to remember, but back in the early 1990s, Hal Hartley was regarded as the hot young American indie filmmaker, and the 1997 Henry Fool, a seriously frivolous allegory on art, fame, fate, and the power of the Internet, was hailed as his breakthrough. Hartley's career promptly stumbled; Henry Fool's belated sequel, Fay Grim, seems nearly an act of desperation. Three of the principals return: the Queens sanitation-man-turned-poet Simon Grim (professionally affectless James Urbaniak); his sister Fay (Parker Posey); and, briefly, the saturnine mystery tramp who changed their life, Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan). A decade has passed as the CIA comes to Queens in the form of Jeff Goldblum, who appears as a duplicitous spook. Not lacking for ambition, Fay Grim adds a topical, national-security subtext to Henry Fool's more romantic concerns: The MacGuffin is a series of confessional notebooks that Henry may have written in a code that amounts to a secret, highly damning history of the Reagan era. Off to Paris in search of the notebooks, Posey looks smashing in a fitted town-coat ensemble, and, for perhaps 40 minutes, Fay Grim actually sort of works as a comic thriller. But it's precisely when Fay Grim strains for the big narrative revelation that it seems least consequential.
Posey and Goldblum can’t keep Hartley’s farce afloat.
Opens at Harvard Exit, Fri., May 18. Rated R. 118 minutes.