If Hollywood is the place where people go to fashion their identity anew, then Footprints takes that idea as its starting point. Literalizing the blank slate of Movieland myth, Steven Peros’s film begins with a young woman waking up on the hand- and footprints of the stars outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater with no recollection of her past. As she meets an assortment of Tinseltown types and begins a quest toward discovering her old identity—or constructing a fresh one—little tidbits of knowledge emerge. After awhile she remembers three things: that she’s from Hollywood, that she’s seen William Wyler’s 1949 film The Heiress, and that the phrase “fountain boy” has special meaning for her. Wending her way through a slightly dreamlike Los Angeles in which every person she meets, from the homeless man who discourses on the marginal real estate given black actors on the Walk of Fame to the memorabilia store clerk who remarks on the early deaths of the three leads of The Misfits, is a fount of celluloid trivia, our amnesiac searches for a grizzled ex-actor type whom she met briefly before he suddenly vanished and who she believes holds the key to her past.
Introduced as a fairy tale (“Once upon a time…”), Peros’s film seems to be aiming for a surreal, Lynchian vibe, albeit with a more comic, less menacing one, but it lacks both the haunted imagination of a Mulholland Drive or the comedic panache to successfully steer that middle ground. With the exception of the grizzled thesp type (played by longtime TV veteran H.M. Wynant) with his bolo tie and his enigmatic non sequiturs and a hysterical woman who accosts our nameless protagonist in the street with an urgent, unsettling plea in a foreign language, the bulk of the many supporting turns are too colorless to deliver their intended comic disjunctions.
Similarly, Peros seems intent on making his points about Hollywood as a land of invented identities and second chances, but this leads both to some rather obvious bits of dialogue and down the rabbit hole of a half-baked, borderline incoherent conclusion. The former is exemplified by an exchange in which the heroine tells an old woman, “I don’t have an ethnic identity,” before her interlocutor encourages her to create one. (She picks Greek-American “with a little Dutch.” “In Hollywood,” says the elderly lady, “it’s as easy as that.”) But this bluntness is welcome when compared to the vagueness of Peros’s fuzzy conception of the thin line separating the dead and the living, which is expected to carry the weight of the film’s conclusion, but isn’t clearly enough articulated to resonate with any satisfaction. One could say it simply obeys the dreamlike logic of the movies (and it wouldn’t be just to deny Footprints a measure of success at creating an appealingly oneiric atmosphere), but that would accomplish little more than giving the film’s underimagined conception of second chances via a sort of reincarnation a free pass.