More noise than signal

Party Monster

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

If nothing else Party Monster has a nice line in utterly insane costume designs. And a decent if anachronistic soundtrack. And Seth Green’s quite good for the first hour before running out of inspiration.

Everything else is very, very bad. Set in 80’s New York, the film charts the life of club promoter and eventually strung out drug addict Michael Alig. Someone in casting had the bright idea to have McCauley Culkin continue to shake off his Home Alone typecast, a process started by that video for a Smashing Pumpkins tune which escapes me at the moment. Guaranteed controversy, guaranteed publicity, guaranteed hype. Unfortunately it also guarantees a laughable performance in the lead role which essentially ruins a film which could never have been great but at least entertaining.

Arriving in New York as a fresh faced, innocent young gay lad he quickly seeks out the original club kid and wastrel James St. James (Seth Green). Taking notes, Alig soon becomes as flagrantly extroverted as his mentor with colourful, glittery and occasionally barely present outfits being the order of the day. He sets up a series of debauched club nights that eventually leads him down a spiral of drug addiction that is rarely represented as anything other than a right good laugh. I’d forgive it’s social irresponsibity if it made for a funny or at least half-decent story, but alas, no.

Alig uses his parties to create a few more celebrities, famous for being associated with someone famous for doing nothing. His lover Keoki (Wilmer Valderrama) becomes a superstar DJ, although his only noticeable talent would appear to be opening up time portals to play Miss Kitten & The Hacker tracks a good twenty years before they were created. Arguably his most audacious creation is Angel (Wilson Cruz), a superstar drug dealer that eventually becomes his undoing as the Feds shut down the club night and arrest the club owner and Alig’s father figure Peter Gatien (Dylan McDermott). After a further downward descent into even more drugs, an addled Alig ends up killing Angel, chopping him up and disposing of the box o’ limbs in the Hudson. This books him a one way ticket to slammersville and so ends the fairytale of Michael Alig.

As a documentary I’ve no idea how accurate it is and it’s done nothing to inspire me to check. As a film its largely irritating with a few sidetrips into excruciating. Culkin has been absent from any significant cinematic works of late for a good reason – he’s terrible. In a film full of cliches he provides the least dressing to them, a shallow and superficial representation of a shallow and superficial person, a meta-irritation if ever there was one. His pasty face soon becomes as unwelcome as his meagre array of irritating mannerisms and it does an exercise in frustration every time his mouth opens to spew more vile inanity into the world.

That Seth Green acts him off the screen should come as no surprise; he’s one of the few truly talented young comic actors treading the boards these days and despite the worryingly pretentious introduction his character is given he manages to inject a fair amount of humour into his role as the spoilt rich kid gone glam. He has by far the most effective comedy mince seen in a movie full of them but even he runs out of spins to put on played out cliches and well worn stereotypes, and by the last half hour in the film (which feels like a day) he’s as sub-standard as the rest of the movie albeit through little fault of his own. Marilyn Manson has perhaps the best cameo role in the world as Christina, another of Alig’s horrendous creations.

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato direct this with none of the flair or panache, the sheer style that would be needed for something as stylised as this to have any hope of keeping your attention through the seemingly endless cycle of parties and drugs. Despite following real life events it’s a dubious achievement that they can claim that the film’s conclusion as Angel’s murder comes to light that it feels as though it was a hastily bolted on subplot to give the film a different note to end on. There are a few chuckles to be had but these tail off rapidly towards the film’s end as it struggles to work out exactly what it wants to be, a comedy or a hard hitting drama. Of course, it’s actually about Alig’s life and what a dismal and irritating one it is, if this film is anything to go by.

Despite the main characters ambitions to be fabulous, Party Monster is anything but. The decent supporting actors almost give the film a lift from it natural habitat of the dregs of a drug infested world, a false glamour where all the snazzy outfits in the land can’t hide the signs of lives being wasted utterly. This is a morally bankrupt and creatively lacking exercise in futility that seems to think it’s making some profound points along the way when in reality it’s little more than tabloid filmmaking. And turgid, lazy, bland, shallow, irritating tabloid filmmaking at that.