Review by Michael Hastings (Allmovie)
Though Paul Schrader isn’t often tapped to direct scripts other than his own, his touch proves essential to Auto Focus, a true-life tale of sex, celebrity, and videotape that seems tailor-made to the man who dreamed up Taxi Driver and American Gigolo. Schrader’s clinical, detached directorial style proves well-matched to the genial, humorous tone of Michael Gerbosi’s script; it’s like Hardcore without all the proselytizing (and without the sight of George C. Scott in a campy porn-producer costume). What Auto Focus is most interested in is not the narcotizing effects of anonymous sex — though that’s undeniably a big part of it — but the latent homosexuality lurking behind Bob Crane and John Carpenter’s buddy-buddy sexcapades. Finally cast in a role that successfully sends up and subverts his All-American charm, Greg Kinnear perfectly captures Crane’s kid-in-a-candy-store sexual awakening; meanwhile, Willem Dafoe underlines the desperation at the heart of the swinging lifestyle. Schrader overplays his hand in the film’s “downward spiral” sequences, switching to hand-held camera and bleached-out film stock, but even those minor technical miscalculations don’t detract from the film’s portrait of Crane as a man whose determination to lead the unobserved life ultimately led to his death.