Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins: 360) was a great filmmaker with a lot of issues. He ate too much. He was pathetically dependent on his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren: The Door). Though their marriage was devoid of passion, he obsessed over the nubile blondes he directed. And, if Hitchcock is to be believed, he identified fully and had imaginary conversations with serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott: A Lonely Place for Dying).
    So Norman Bates has company.
    Hitchcock begins in 1959, when Hitch needs a change. He’s made a lucrative career directing thrillers, spy dramas and hosting a weekly TV show. In spite of this success, he feels his genius is overlooked. His latest movie, North By Northwest, is a smash hit with the public, but Hitch is devastated at the New York Times review that claims he’s lost step and will be replaced by new Masters of Suspense.
    Aren’t film critics just the worst?
    To preserve his title, Hitchcock turns to the book Psycho, which was based in large part on the real-life depravities of Gein. It’s not typical fare for a studio movie, featuring homosexuality, gore, cross-dressing, murder and sexual depravity. Little surprise when the studio rejects it.
    But Hitch is obsessed. He mortgages his home and finances the movie himself. If Psycho is a hit, he’ll remain the Master of Suspense — unless his own urges distract him.
    What kind of a movie is Hitchcock?
    The film wants to be many things: a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the director and his legacy; a searing look at a troubled marriage; a gossipy tale at a Hollywood derangement.
    Too much and too little will infuriate cinephiles and confuse newcomers.
    Hopkins and Mirren do fine sketches of historical figures, but they never fully embody their undefined roles. They are playing actual people who have been the subjects of biographies and documentaries, so this lack of characterization is especially frustrating.
    Neither does the film’s examination of the relationship between Alma and Hitch offer insight. Alma respects her husband’s talent but seems revolted by him physically. She resents his obsessions with his actresses but is content to support his career — with no credit for her substantial contributions. We see no reason these two would want to be in the same room with each other, let alone remain married for decades.
    Little time is devoted to exploring the making of Psycho. That’s a shame, as Hitchcock defines it, correctly, as the seminal movie in the director’s career. The film was a breakthrough, both in storytelling and in teaching modern audiences a new way to watch movies.
    Instead, director Sacha Gervasi (Anvil: The Story of Anvil) explores Hitchcock’s legendary obsessive nature by orchestrating impromptu therapy sessions between Gein and Hitch. Gervasi seems to think that the director was only a hair’s-breadth away from joining the ranks of Norman Bates and Gein.
    Hitchcock is at its best when it evokes Hitchcock’s wry sense of humor. Both the introductory and ending scenes are clever bits of writing that nearly make up for the mess of the middle.
    If you’re familiar with the work of Alfred Hitchcock, you’ll find this a frustratingly unenlightening film. If you’ve never heard of him, you’ll wonder why they let this madman run about Hollywood harassing women.

Fair Drama • PG-13 • 98 mins.