Question: When is a Martin Scorsese film not a Martin Scorsese film? Answer: When it's a Paul Thomas Anderson film.
And that's the trouble with Anderson's "Boogie Nights", an ambitious exploration of the American porno film industry. Its elaborate visuals and 1970s soundtrack instantly remind one of Scorsese's breakthrough film "Mean Streets". Anderson, a director who makes no secret of his admiration for both Scorsese and the similarly iconic Robert Altman is clearly talented but here, rather than being his own man, he only succeeds in flattering his idols.
A fine cast led by Mark Wahlberg (including perennial supporting actors, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H Macy) play out Anderson's well constructed story of the rise and fall of both performers and producers in the freewheeling world of pornography. Wahlberg is particularly good as Eddie, a heftily endowed innocent who soon finds his niche performing as Dirk Diggler for director Jack Horner (an excellent Burt Reynolds). Heather Graham nabs every scene she's in as the easy and spacey Rollergirl, while Julianne Moore's maternal, seasoned veteran Amber Waves is impressively confident yet vulnerable.
Anderson sensibly avoids using his subject matter as an excuse for endless sex scenes (though it's not shy, either), and instead details the effects of wealth, drugs, and most interestingly new technology on the industry and its performers as the predictable, grim decline counters the exciting rise.
What lets the film down is Anderson's copycat visual style, which is derivative to the point of distraction, and his inclusion of an abundance of period music as a short cut to atmosphere is trite rather than evocative. Nowhere near as good as its reputation suggests (derived in part from a vogue for 1970s nostalgia that has long outstayed its welcome), "Boogie Nights" remains worth your time thanks to quality performances of refreshingly flawed characters, and in its depiction of a billion dollar area of the film business that remains outside the mainstream.