`Existo' artists take on the theocracy

Movie review

February 28, 2000|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Imagine the Bader-Meinhoff Gang led by Mickey Rooney, and you get an idea of "Existo," the raunchy, rollicking musical comedy that wowed Baltimore audiences at last year's MicroCineFest and returns today to the Charles Theatre for a limited run.

Bruce Arnston stars as the title character, a whacked-out poet-provocateur who arrives in a nameless city in the near future to do battle with the fundamentalist fanatics who have taken over the government.

Artists, intellectuals and fun-mongers have gone underground in a community run by Dr. Armand Glasscock (Mike Montgomery), a scribe and Pharisee who delivers pious homilies via TV watched by dippy zombies. (By the way, that dippy reference is literal.)

Existo and his muse Maxine (the voluptuous Jackie Welch) rally a troupe of unlikely foot soldiers, who proceed to wage an all-out art war on their white-bread town, sending the capitalist theocracy into a tizzy. "If you see art, do not, I repeat do not, attempt to interpret it yourself," a Glasscock minion intones. "Call 911 and have the Art Squad defuse it."

No doubt Rudy Giuliani has duly noted that last suggestion. But make no mistake: "Existo," which was co-written by Arnston with director Coke Sams, makes sure to send up the bohemians with the same satirical edge as their strait-laced counterparts.

A wacky, cheerfully subversive foil for Arnston's smart and funny declamations (he's a well-known performance artist in Nashville), "Existo" bounces lightly from one set piece to another, ratcheting up the stakes until everyone ends up in a scene that looks like it was conceived by Hunter S. Thompson and choreographed by John Waters.

The sex and drugs flow freely in this paean to mind-expanding excess. The faint of heart will surely succumb to the vapors at the sight of Existo hopping around on a pogo stick fashioned to look like a part of the male anatomy. But filmgoers who are game for a lewd, crude and thoroughly good-natured joyride will appreciate the film's essentially wholesome take on politics, orthodoxy, pop culture and artistic expression.

"Existo" is executed with just the right amount of giddiness and irony by Sams and features memorable turns by Gailard Sartain as a latter-day Divine and Jenny Littleton as a Betty Boop of a nightclub chanteuse. As for Arnston, you must see this long-haired, declaiming dervish to believe him; let's just say this is the guy who put the agita in agit-prop.

Look for the recently departed Jim Varney -- whom Sams directed in "Ernest Goes to School" -- in a heroic supporting performance.

`Existo'

Starring Bruce Arnston, Jackie Welch, Jim Varney, Gailard Sartain, Jenny Littleton Directed by Coke Sams

Rated This film is not rated (language, sexuality and drug use)

Running time 93 minutes

Released by Hometown Productions

Sun score *** 1/2

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