In retrospect, it's no surprise that Auto Focus didn't do much business in theaters. This is a movie about a TV star, ''Hogan's Heroes'' funnyman Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear), whose compulsion to videotape himself having sex culminated in his murder. Somehow, the subject seemed too small for the big screen; the film's natural home, eerily enough, is on video.
Director Paul Schrader, an intrepid explorer of sexual obsession since 1979's ''Hardcore,'' proves an inspired choice to tell Crane's story, and Kinnear pulls off nothing short of an acting miracle: a profound portrait of a shallow man. Crane's codependent partnership with technogeek-swinger John Carpenter (the deeply creepy Willem Dafoe) seems perverse at first, then turns twistedly poignant when they're reduced to watching their own X-rated reruns. But the most touching relationship in ''Auto Focus'' is Crane's tender bond with his longtime agent (Ron Leibman, indelible as a mensch among mensches). And if that's not a measure of how skewed Crane's moral compass was, nothing is.