Downtown drag diva Charles Busch brings his schtick to "Die Mommie Die," a sendup of classic Hollywood melodramas that shows spirit but is often burdened by clichˇs.
By DIANE SNYDER
Film would seem the perfect medium for the silly, salacious movie spoofs that actor-author Charles Busch writes and stars in onstage. It was for 2000's "Psycho Beach Party," an exuberant mixture of '60s teen surfer flick and grade-B horror film, adapted from his play. But his latest, "Die Mommie Die!, a lampoon of old-time Hollywood thrillers that also originated onstage, often seems slow and plodding even at 90 minutes. The finely paced comic timing that's a hallmark of his plays hasn't been translated effectively by first-time film director Mark Rucker.
Still, like all Busch's work, it's a great vehicle for the gender-bending performer. As the flame-haired leading lady Angela Arden, he is in fine form, and already received the Special Jury Prize for Acting at this year's Sundance fest. His husky voice and seductive glances make him not so much a parody of dark leading ladies like Bette Davis or Joan Crawford as their equivalent, and longtime costume designers Michael Bottari and Ronald Case have once again produced an endless wardrobe of resplendent elegance.
|DIE, MOMMIE, DIE!|
|Directed by: Mark Rucker.|
Written by: Charles Busch.
Adapted from the play by: Charles Busch.
Cast: Charles Busch, Frances Conroy, Philip Baker Hall, Natasha Lyonne, Jason Priestley, Stark Stands.
"Die Mommie Die!" borrows plot elements from an array of Hollywood melodramas, including "Now, Voyager," "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?," "The Little Foxes," "Sunset Boulevard" and "Mommie Dearest" (no doubt the reason the film title is spelled differently than the play, which was "Die! Mommy! Die!"). A onetime glamorous recording artist, Angela is now in semi-retirement, a Hollywood wife in 1967, and she hasn't been the same in the years since her twin sister, Barbara, who was once her singing partner, died.|
These days she's having an affair with much-younger washed-up TV star Tony Parker ("90210's" Jason Priestley bolding spoofing his own persona). But Angela's movie-producer husband, Sol (Philip Baker Hall), turns vicious when he discovers the liaison, and Angela decides the only way she can be rid of her sham of a marriage is to poison Sol.
Although his death appears accidental, Angela's behavior raises the suspicions of the rest of the household Bible-quoting housekeeper Bootsie (Frances Conroy), daughter Edith (Natasha Lyonne), who was eerily close to her father, and sexually voracious son Lance (Stark Sands), whose behavior got him expelled from college. When her children drug her with LSD to try to get to the truth, Angela reveals more nefarious secrets than they could have expected.
While the plot twists don't induce many chills or surprises, Busch's knack for the zesty one-liner is as sharp as ever. Lance requests an encore of his fling with Tony by declaring, "Brother, if you want any singing from me, you better haul out that bratwurst and spread some mustard on it." But other jokes could have been written by a college student going for maximum gross-out effect, e.g., Angela doing in Sol with a poisoned suppository.|
As a whole, the film feels like an overdone soap opera, assembled from too many clichˇs that don't offer enough freshness. "Die Mommie Die!" is light, nostalgic fare, but you might have just as much fun watching TCM or AMC.
|OCTOBER 31, 2003|
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