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‘Framing John DeLorean’: Hybrid film, assembled from mismatched parts, still a heck of a ride

It’s part documentary, part drama starring Alec Baldwin as the showman automaker,

Alec Baldwin plays the title role during re-enactments in “Framing John DeLorean.”
Sundance Selects

We when award the official Recommendation Badge of three stars or more to a movie, we’re saying, “Please don’t miss this.”

Or, in the case of “Framing John DeLorean,” it’s more like, “Oh man, you GOTTA see this.”

Oddly enough, this is a hybrid of a film about a car that was the polar opposite of a hybrid: impractical on just about every level, from the hefty price tag to the gull-wing doors to the battery that would drain so quickly, drivers would find themselves stranded on the side of the road next to their stainless steel vehicles.

So, if you’re going to tell the story of an Icarus-like visionary/rebel/narcissist/showman and his dream car, which was a legendary failure but has also become a permanent part of the popular culture as arguably the most famous automobile in motion picture history, why not make a borderline bat-bleep crazy docu-something of a film chronicling the whole thing?

I mean, we’ve got Alec Baldwin portraying DeLorean from the early 1960s through the 1980s — but we also have scenes in which Baldwin (sporting highly questionable wigs, makeup and prosthetics) breaks character and gives his thoughts about the DeLorean story. Other times, Baldwin sits in the makeup chair, watching news clips of the real DeLorean, or FaceTimes with his wife and explains, “We’re doing re-enactment footage of DeLorean’s drama, his caper, his escapades — and we’ll cut that into documentary footage.”

It makes for a strangely compelling but decidedly uneven stew.

One moment, we’re looking at a scene that feels like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, with Baldwin as the young DeLorean (he looks more like Richard Nixon with a full head of hair) as he butts heads with the traditional, old-school execs at General Motors.

The next moment, we see DeLorean’s grown son Zach, who has not had an easy adulthood, climbing into a DeLorean in present times, speaking in heartbreaking terms about his father and noting, “Between me and this car, I think it’s a love-hate relationship.”

With that double-entendre of a title, “Framing John DeLorean” is indeed an attempt to frame the story of John DeLorean via the aforementioned unconventional methods — but it’s also a reference to the government’s entrapment-fueled case against the beleaguered automaker in the 1980s.

Directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce kick off the film with grainy black-and-white footage of DeLorean taking a lie detector test in the 1980s — followed by a series of interviews with writers and producers who have worked on various unproduced feature films about DeLorean. (No mention is made of a DeLorean film that DID get made: “Driven,” which stars Lee Pace as DeLorean and Jason Sudeikis as an FBI informant and is scheduled for an August release.)

The filmmakers opt to have it both ways, with a documentary, a movie-within-the-movie and a movie about the making of the movie-within-the-movie. (I guess that’s both ways plus one more way!)

We see archival footage of the real DeLorean in his early days as a rising star engineer with GM in the early 1960s, and clips and stills of DeLorean becoming a heat-seeking publicity missile in the 1970s — appearing on talk shows, getting plastic surgery and working on his physique, dating and in some cases marrying models and starlets, burnishing his image through his departure from GM and his bold, headline-making plans for the DMC-12, which included building a manufacturing plant in economically depressed Northern Ireland.

We see the dream of a super sports car for the masses go sideways, with the first, fuel-gobbling DeLorean costing more than a Corvette, and the DeLorean Motor Co. running into all sorts of financial potholes.

And we also get those re-enactments, with Baldwin delivering entertainingly hammy work beneath the wigs and prosthetics; Josh Charles as DeLorean’s onetime right-hand man, Bill Collins; Morena Baccarin (of the “Deadpool” movies) as DeLorean’s wife, Cristina Ferrare, the model and TV hostess who left him right after the trial, and Michael Rispoli as James Timothy Hoffman, a confidential informant for the FBI who hatched the idea of getting the cash-strapped DeLorean involved in a cocaine buy. (Some of the scenes with Baldwin and Rispoli play out like a low-rent version of “American Hustle.”)

“Back to the Future” was released in 1985, four years after the DeLorean debuted to mixed reviews and disappointing sales, three years after John DeLorean was arrested in the cocaine trafficking sting, one year after DeLorean was found not guilty. By the time Doc Brown was flying around in a DeLorean, the actual DeLorean car was already something a punch line, and yet still kinda cool — which made it the perfect vehicle, so to speak, for Robert Zemeckis’ classic.

And there’s yet another plot twist in this stranger than fiction story: The onscreen DeLorean achieved a level of mass popularity the real DeLorean car never came close to achieving.