Adapted from the same 1913 novel that inspired an eponymous 1927 Hitchcock silent film, this new Lodger moves the locale from London to Los Angeles, enabling a whole slew of nods to Hollywood conventions. The familiar hijinks begin as an entrenched West Hollywood cop's most famous case turns out to have been mistakenly closed after a Hispanic man's wrongful execution (though LA's related racial tensions are merely mentioned before our all-white cast resumes its deliberations), and across the neighborhood a shady man rents a family's empty guesthouse. Sadly, the accompanying collage of well-worn plot points only gains the momentum necessary for a good whodunit in the final half hour.
Before reaching that Psycho-quoting denouement, The Lodger goes about its LAPD versus FBI power plays, serial killer movie cliches and Hitchcock homages with all the verve and vigor of an office cop skimming through dusty case files. One productive result of all the Hitchcock-quoting–the only productive result, save some terrific cinematographic allusions–is Ondaatje's revisiting the famous director's penchant for monstrous families. Here the main suspects are products of crushing family structures and shattered visions of nuclear household dreams.
Our neo-noir detective is Chandler Manning (Alfred Molina), whose actions are equally liable to expose the truth or reveal a latticework of lies, often his own. His wife has recently attempted suicide, his daughter can't stand his presence and both blame him for their depressive circumstances. At moments we blame him for the murders. In the film's other, more engaging and less predictable disaster family, Ellen (Hope Davis) toils in a loveless marriage, fantasizing about the tenant recently moved into her backyard guesthouse.
Alongside Davis and (at times) Molina, the rest of The Lodger's cast gets dull and tiresome quickly. Ondaatje also seems unduly mesmerized by Los Angeles's traffic patterns, sped-up shots of which recur much too often to do anything but pad out a film that would have been more effective if twenty minutes shorter. Appropriately, then, by the time its two engaging characters meet, Molina's charm has worn off and Davis is contained by a final role reversal that, though tentative, seems pretty bent on containing female desire in service of male authority. For all its interesting family politics, then, this new Lodger can't escape the shadow of its 82 year-old father.