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PARTY MONSTER

2003, dir. Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato
98 min. Rated R.
Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green, Dylan McDermott, Wilson Cruz.

Review by Noel Wood

PARTY MONSTER is a mess of a movie.

Whether or not that was the intent still stands to be debated, but it's still a mess. I guess that's to be expected when you make a dramatic movie based on a documentary film based on a tell-all book written by a drug-addled New York City party kid. But it's definitely a mess.

Of course, PARTY MONSTER is the somewhat controversial true story of Michael Alig, a player in the New York club scene in the late '80's/early '90s who was sentenced to prison after killing one of his roommates. Controversial not so much due to the subject matter, but because of the fact that this film marks the return of Macaulay Culkin to the world of cinema. This is the first film Macaulay has made in nearly a decade, his last being 1994's RICHIE RICH. Unfortunately, the years out of the limelight didn't do much to help Macaulay improve as an actor.

Which begs the question, why would you bother snatching up Macaulay, when there's a perfectly good Culkin brother out there who is capable of putting out a good performance and doesn't have to be coaxed into performing. Kieran has proven his chops in films like IGBY GOES DOWN and THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS, but I guess he didn't have the mystique that comes from carting out a burnt-out child star like the kid from HOME ALONE. Face it, Mac just ain't very good. He tries hard, but unfortunatley, it's obvious that he's trying too hard. Plus, you can't keep looking at the guy in the role of the the main character here and not immediately want to see him throw his hands up on his cheeks and open his mouth in a startled expression.

PARTY MONSTER starts off, and ends, with scenes of Seth Green portraying James St. James, the guy who wrote the book Disco Bloodbath on which 1998 Documentary PARTY MONSTER is based. His character is filming the documentary that the 2003 dramatic version of PARTY MONSTER is based on. It just spells out right then and there that this is gonna be a big ol' mess, but at least they're doing something different, right? Unfortunately, the documentary-styled segments only bookend the other 100 minutes of the movie, so the idea really looks like it was either tacked on as an afterthought or was a poorly-executed item based on forethought. Either way, it doesn't really work.

The film then goes through the motions of introducing Culkin's Michael Alig, who goes from a shy sexually ambiguous kid who just moved to the big city to a bombastic sexually ambiguous kid who thinks he has the key to the city. He idolizes James St. James, a popular partygoer and one of the first of the Club Kids, who dress in garishly outrageous costumes and dabble in recreational drugs. Michael wants to be popular too, though. He throws huge parties, despite the concern of club owner Peter Gatien that he's driving him into the red. In short time, Michael gains quite the repuation himself, eventually eclipsing James as the leader of the Club Kid movement.

Unfortunately, that's about the extent of the film's depth, as it never really gets past the level of a VH1 Behind the Music special. Michael thirsts for attention, Michael gets into drugs, Michael shoots drug dealer, Michael goes to jail. The character is so poorly developed and indifferently portrayed by Culkin that the end result is that you just don't have any reason to care about him. He's just another prissy wannabe celebrity that crashed and burned, and winds up being more of a punchline than anything else. And as I said, the film really is a mess. It doesn't seem to flow very well. Events and characters look like they were just jumbled together and given a boot to the rear to get things moving.

Fortunately for the film, the supporting performances try to make up for the weak lead. Seth Green, best known as Scott Evil from AUSTIN POWERS, actually turns in a believable performance here as James St. James. While Culkin seems to think that playing his role only involves a one-dimensional prissiness, Green picks up on the subtle nuances that seperate his character from the norm. The way that Michael and James compete for the spotlight in the fiction (as well as the way they do so in the film's narration, one of the film's better device) is helped greatly by Green's abilities as an actor.

Other supporting players lending their hand include That 70's Show's Wilmer Valderrama as DJ Keoki, The Practice's Dylan McDermott as club owner Peter, and My So-Called Life's Wilson Cruz as the drug dealer Angel. Marilyn Manson steps in as the drag performer Christina Superstar; and ChloŽ Sevigny (who has apparently taken over Parker Posey's spot as the queen of the indies) portrays Michael's later-life partner Gitsie. The supporting cast does their best to hold up the film, but they can't distract enough from the leading man.

Perhaps Bailey and Barbato, who have made a career out of profiling C-list celebrities (Anna Nicole Smith, Monica Lewinsky, and The Surreal Life's Tammy Faye Messener,) should have allowed a more experienced dramatic filmmaker to take over the reigns of PARTY MONSTER. They apparently have some skill in the world of documentaries, but this is a less-than-stellar dramatic feature debut. The film does show promise, has some points in its favor for style, and should be something for its creators to learn from.

Unfortunately, Macaulay Culkin has proven one insurmountable truth: that he will never achieve any more respect than he did as the sickly little boy from MY GIRL. Time to take that second decade-long sabbatical while you still can, Mac.

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