For over three decades, Robert Towne has dreamed of filming Joe Fante’s Ask the Dust, a pulpy yarn about writing and racial tensions in Depression-era Los Angeles. On the basis of his Colin Farrell/Salma Hayek-headlined cinematic adaptation, it’s a dream that should have been left to die. Stale, sterile and hopelessly silly, Towne’s fourth directorial outing is a passion project bereft of passion, an aimless, anachronistic romance that – utilizing airless CG-aided period detail and hilariously clunky dialogue (“Not ‘grew on me,’ grew in me. Like a baby” is merely one guffaw-worthy example) – generates all the heat of a snow cone. A struggling author stuck in a one-bedroom Bunker Hill apartment, Arturo Bandini (Farrell) lends money to the kook down the hall (Donald Sutherland), occasionally corresponds with his publisher and mentor H.L. Mencken (voiced by Time film critic Richard Schickel), and screws lovely Mexican waitress Camilla (Hayek) after some cutesy, borderline-racist bickering about her tattered huaraches. Whereas Big Issues about race, class, and the creative spirit supposedly color Arturo and Camilla’s relationship, Towne drops narrative threads almost as quickly as he introduces them so as to better speed toward some embarrassing sepia-toned sex scenes between his attractive yet largely wooden leads. But Ask the Dust’s simple narrative flaws are mere minor shortcomings compared to the film’s more pressing problems with stilted direction, noir-ish scripting so self-conscious that it borders on parody (highlighted by the use of a portentous third-act cough), and – most egregious of all – an inability to produce even a spark of steamy sensuality from multiple scenes featuring a completely nude Hayek.