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Friday, November 14, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
'Party Monster': What makes these club kids get up and boogie is a big mystery
By Moira Macdonald
"We're two peas in a pod," says '80s club kid Michael Alig (Macaulay Culkin) to his friend James St. James (Seth Green), as they sit in their squalid-but-fabulous Manhattan apartment.
"Pity the pod," says James. No, pity the audience.
Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (who made the sweet, sympathetic documentary "Eyes of Tammy Faye") originally made a documentary version of "Party Monster," which tells the true story of Alig's downfall, from top-of-the-world party boy to killer now serving jail time. It probably makes far more compelling viewing than this feature version, which answers none of the questions Alig's story raises. Instead, it poses one of its own: How could anyone bear to spend any time in the same room with this guy?
Culkin, returning to movies after a long absence, plays Alig in a painfully arch and affected manner, pursing his curly lips and perpetually posing. Alig was a small-town boy who arrived in New York to reinvent himself, drawing an ever-increasing circle of happy misfits around him, but we never see the magnetism that attracted these people just an actor toying with stereotypes. Likewise, Green (who delivers every line as if he's in the throes of a bad cold) can't find any truth in this twisted buddy movie; to be fair, he's not helped by lines like "Michael was growing on me, like a fungus."
And Fenton and Barbato give the movie a wiggly, pseudo-documentary framing device, in which Green, in a deck chair, addresses the camera. Nothing wrong with blending genres ("American Splendor" did it splendidly), but it feels too self-conscious here, we don't yet know who Green is, nor are given a reason to care.
"Party Monster" has some wonderfully colorful sequences, aptly re-creating the glitter and fashion excesses of its era. (In one scene, Michael struts down the street in a tuxedo shirt and striped blazer; like a milk-pale Edwardian dandy.) And Chloé Sevigny's cat-eyed watchfulness is used to good effect in a small role. But this story about a charismatic Peter Pan ultimately feels flat. We begin the film not knowing what brought Michael and James together. We end, after a too-long 98 minutes, precisely the same way.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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