View him as you like — preposterous self-indulgent fake, cinematic visionary, or deeply disturbed individual — there’s no denying that David Lynch is unique. Nobody makes movies quite like his. Perhaps nobody wants to. At his best (The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet), his work is challenging, thought-provoking, and shot through with keen, albeit often peculiar, insight. At his worst (Wild at Heart, Lost Highway), his work tends toward the incomprehensible (weird-for-weirdness’ sake) and repellent. I commented to one person that I’d consider Mulholland Drive a success if it merely didn’t leave me feeling like I needed a bath after it was over. I’m happy to say that it’s a success far beyond that small accomplishment. Lynch’s latest is a haunting, deeply sinister work that perhaps lacks the point of Blue Velvet, but may outdistance it in terms of mood and staying power. Not that Mulholland Drive is anything like a normal, straight-forward narrative film. Its plot is almost impossible to follow. It’s less a plot than a series of interconnecting vignettes and situations that, more or less, follow the fates of Rita (Laura Harring), an amnesiac fleeing from a murder attempt that was foiled by a car wreck, and Betty (Naomi Watts), a wide-eyed innocent in Hollywood hoping for stardom. The storyline — such as it is — takes an abrupt turn about two-thirds of the way through the film and leads to a kind of closure without an actual ending. The film has a strange genesis. It started life as a TV pilot for ABC. The network — obviously hoping for another Twin Peaks — was understandably non-plussed by the extreme nature of what Lynch handed over and declined the project. When the chance came for Lynch to salvage Mulholland Drive by turning it into a feature, he took what he had and fashioned a kind of final act — in Lynchian terms — for it, resulting in possibly his most strangely compelling work to date. Part of the reason the film works as well as it does may lie in its TV origins. As Twin Peaks proved, television forced a certain amount of discipline on Lynch, and even while Mulholland Drive pushed the envelope for TV, it retained some of that discipline. Plus, the requirements of TV seem to bring out an interesting side of Lynch. Knowing that he has to fulfill at least the bare essentials of a narrative form, he does so in a grudgingly humorous manner, deliberately overplaying his characters and giving them scads of intentionally insipid dialogue that would have shamed Ed Wood in its awkward structure. In so doing, Lynch’s work takes on a bizarrely comedic slant that mocks the very requirement it honors. That is one of the strengths of Mulholland Drive,but only one. For a change, Lynch’s caricatures are here also recognizable as characters — even though by the end of the film it’s no longer even clear who is who or who is even real. But the fact that Lynch at least introduced us to vaguely believable characters gives them the kind of solidity the stock Lynchian weirdos often lack. To some extent, Mulholland Drive is a re-shuffling of some of the themes of Blue Velvet, an examination of the corruption that lies beneath the surface of the normal — only setting it in L.A. rather than Lumberton makes that a different prospect, since corruption is a given in this locale. Not to worry, Lynch will subvert that before the film’s end and make you question if you even know where these things lie. Nothing in the film is quite normal, yet all of it is very normal. The film is obsessed with the existence of the sinister and unsettling in the most common of everyday things. That which ought to be sinister in the film — a hapless hit-man who has to keep eliminating witnesses, a bizarre underworld power known as “The Cowboy,” etc. — is more comically unsettling than sinister. But, apartment complexes, the furnishings and fixtures of rooms, a fast-food restaurant all exude an inexplicable evil. The last sections of the film where Lynch ties his vignettes together — including the addition of a Hellraiser-like box that acts like a portal to another dimension (and like the one in Hellraiser ends up in the keeping of a scroungy vagrant) — is apt to disorient many viewers. But that, of course, is the point in this strange, rich, funny, and sometimes maddening film.