Beware of `Mommie'

October 31, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Die Mommie Die! is an odd little film, Douglas Sirk as channeled through John Waters.

Starring a man playing a woman and featuring a Beverly Hills 90210 alumnus as the bisexual love interest, it flaunts some conventions, breaks others and tries to stand alone while invoking the ghosts of a handful of movie genres past. In the end, it's probably too wicked for its own good, but its determination to seek its own ground demands, at the least, respect.

Charles Busch, in a singular performance that's out there without being outrageous (there's not a whole lot to measure him against), is equal parts Bette Davis and Joan Crawford - the legendary rivals would despise being lumped together, but a strong case could be made for either as Busch's primary muse - as Angela Arden, the lesser half of a famed sister-sister vocal duo. Doomed to forever languish in the shadow of her more talented sibling, Angela rattles about within a lavish, sterile mansion, alongside her wealthy, embittered husband Sol (Philip Baker Hall) and their two malcontent kids, spoiled Edith (Natasha Lyonne) and confused Lance (Stark Sands).

Determined to escape her rut of a life and maybe even resume her career, Angela plots to kill Sol via a poisoned suppository (it's that kind of film). But the predictable complications ensue, including interference by a nosey maid (Frances Conroy) and myriad dalliances by Angela's not-exactly-faithful lover, Tony (Jason Priestley).

Busch, who adapted the movie from his own stage play, uses a few millennia worth of source material, from the Greeks (the story of Clytemnestra) to '50s melodrama and '70s kitsch. Taken together, the sum of so many parts is too schizophrenic to be wholeheartedly embraced - the movie is played for parody, but with a veneer of respectability that leaves the whole endeavor betwixt and between.

Die Mommie Die!

Starring Charles Busch, Philip Baker Hall, Natasha Lyonne

Directed by Mark Rucker

Rated R (language, sexuality)

Released by The Sundance Channel

Time 90 minutes

Sun Score **1/2

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