Robert Towne’s labor of love pays homage to a much-romanticized literary tradition, that of American fiction writing of the 1930s. In Towne’s adaptation of John Fante’s novel, Colin Farrell is a poor Italian-American who’s occupying a hotel room in downtown Los Angeles and starting his first novel. A Mexican waitress (Salma Hayek) and a disfigured Jewish woman (Idina Menzel) distract the hero before ending up as sacrifices to his artistic self-discovery. Like his CGI-enhanced rendition of Depression-era LA, Towne’s direction gives off warm and fuzzy vibes that are all but visible, and his good intentions cast a stodgy pall. As an LA movie, Ask the Dust is far behind Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (which Towne wrote), and as a study of the writer’s life, it adds little to the typewriter fetishism of Wim Wenders’s Hammett and David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch.