Though Pierre Bismuth co-wrote the story for Michel Gondry's masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with Gondry and Charlie Kaufman, the Kaufman-penned film from which his "documentary" Where Is Rocky II? most seems to draw inspiration is the mind-bending and shape-shifting Adaptation. Blending elements of reality with fiction to create a droll commentary on the nature of Hollywood, it delights in playing with genre conventions, adding layers upon layers of illusion to muddy the facts.
Those facts are that in the '70s, artist Ed Ruscha created a convincing fake rock (that he nicknamed Rocky II after the film) out of fiberglass and other materials, then placed the rock somewhere in the Mojave Desert to blend in seamlessly with all of the other identical rocks. Intrigued by the mystery surrounding this story, Bismuth hires private investigator Michael Scott to try and track down the rock's whereabouts using any means necessary.
Like any other case, he starts by speaking to friends and colleagues of Ruscha's in an attempt to obtain any leads on finding this proverbial needle in a haystack. But in the classic tradition of detective stories, he's met with people who either don't remember anything or perhaps are playing their cards close to their vests to protect the artist. Aided by an old documentary archived at the BFI, he finally starts making progress, and is eventually put in touch with the man who served as "rock consultant" on the film.
With an intrusive score that plays up the mystery of the events and a stylized look that continuously undermines the reality of his search, the film begins to embrace and embellish typical staples of the genre as it moves along. By the time Bismuth has screenwriters D.V. DeVincentis (High Fidelity) and Anthony Peckham (Sherlock Holmes) crafting a full-blown Hollywood action movie version of the story called Monument One (from which we see clips starring Robert Knepper and Milo Ventimiglia), the film's become a veritable Russian nesting doll of a making-of within a film within a documentary.
There are amusing tangents and cameos along the way. Stephen Tobolowsky plays the keeper of the rock in the Monument One film-within-the-film, while writer-director Mike White, as himself, lends a hand to the screenwriters in trying to break the beats of the story and, in the process, provides a hilarious suggestion for a teaser trailer. Ultimately, the whole thing doesn't add up to all that much more than a frivolous and toothless satire of Hollywood's tendency to sensationalize and invent whenever it deems necessary, but it's a fun and fitting take on a real-life story that's unlike anything that you've heard or seen before.
Donald Kaufman would approve.