For all we know, Bob Crane never told a lie in his life before starring in Hogan’s Heroes. When his wife confronts him about a clandestine collection of porno magazines, he stammers and hedges as though he’d never been accused of anything before. He doesn’t have the capacity to truly sell the lie, but through persistence manages to keep talking and defuse the argument.
Played by Greg Kinnear, Bob Crane is a completely guileless, the cartoon portrait of a Eisenhower-era dad. As soon as the pilot for Hogan Heroes wraps he finds his relationship with women has changed irrevocably. At the wrap party, episode still unseen, a girl connects that Crane is the title character and the highest on the totem pole and practically presents herself to him.
Crane attracts the attention of creepy hanger-on John Carpenter (played by Willem Dafoe, and no, not John Carpenter the director). Carpenter is an electronics nerd that quickly becomes an enabler for all of Crane’s unrealized desires. He knows the strip club scene, and owns a house perfect for hosting small parties. Carpenter even fulfills Crane’s unique fetish. Through contacts with the embryonic video companies, Carpenter scores prototype video recorders that he and Crane use to document their conquests.
It’s hard to drum up sympathy for sex addiction. It seems the province of the very attractive and the famous. Many of us will never be in a position to score a new conquest at a whim, and the prospect of such a distinction seems entirely thrilling. To be fair, while Auto Focus’s primary subject is on sex addiction, it runs in parallel to the cresting of fame. Crane led a double life, and his mainstream appeal was rooted in the perception that he was a dutiful, responsible, family man. His addiction to sex is a cancer on that character. Eventually it corrodes two marriages, and gradually seeps into Crane’s public persona. Crane’s documentation of his sex life are his proudest achievement, and he can’t help but show the photos to his colleagues in oblivious pride.
When Craine’s at the pinnacle of his fame, he has his pick of beautiful women. He doesn’t even need to work them himself. The mere mention of his name, even from John Carpenter’s lips, is enough to draw attractive women. As Crane’s fame subsides following Hogan Heroes cancellation, the supply of women diminishes first not in quantity but quality. They get plumper, older. Soon Crane’s dinner circuit work starts coinciding with swinger parties. His name alone is no longer good enough to attract women, so legwork is necessary.
Auto Focus succeeds in crafting a look into sex addiction but as the second half progresses the failures mount. Hamfisted dream sequences and cheap editing effects are heaped on but only distract from Kinnear’s performance. As Crane’s murder looms, the film tries and somehow fails to cast suspicion on John Carpenter. Given that Crane was bludgeoned with a video tripod you’d think that Carpenter would’ve been the obvious culprit, but not only does his honor survive Auto Focus but also two separate court trials.
Much of Willem Dafoe’s career has been a struggle against being typecast against his appearance. It’s sad then to see his John Carpenter amount to little more than a simple creep. Sadder still is that even when purposefully muted, he outshines costar Kinnear