DANCING AT THE BLUE IGUANA (director/writer: Michael Radford; screenwriter: David Linter; cinematographer: Ericson Core; editor: Roberto Perpignani; music: Tal Bergman; cast: Charlotte Ayanna (Jessie), Daryl Hannah (Angel), Sandra Oh (Jasmine), Jennifer Tilly (Jo), Vladimir Mashkov (Sacha), Sheila Kelley (Stormy), Elias Koteas (Sully), Kristen Bauer (Nico), Robert Wisdom (Eddy), W. Earl Brown (Bobby), Chris Hogan (Dennis); Runtime: 123; Lions Gate Films; 2000)
“There’s a lot of tepid exotic dancing as the girls’ writhe and slither around the pole.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is a soap opera ensemble piece melodrama developed by using the improv workshop technique, as each actor created their own character and sad story that went with it. It worked as far as fleshing out the story of the five strippers in an exotic club, but the narrative failed to hang together and give weight to the film’s theme about how lonely the girls are who spend their most pleasurable moments dreaming of escape and how they are too emotionally disturbed to change lifestyles.
Eddie (Robert Wisdom) is the business-minded manager of a strip club in the San Fernando Valley part of California, called the Blue Iguana. Bobby (Brown) is the strong-arm who strokes the egos of the vulnerable girls and keeps everything rolling along. Jo (Jennifer Tilly) is a temperamental, tough-minded star attraction at the club, but who can’t cope with finding herself pregnant. Jo has problems with anger-management and hustles in her private life as a dominatrix. Angel (Daryl Hannah) is very lovable but has found no one to be her man. Angel’s spaced-out to the point of being childlike and unable to make rational decisions on her own, as she wants to be a foster mother in order to compensate for her messed up life but has trouble adopting a child because of her lifestyle. Jasmine (Sandra Oh) is the most interesting character in the film. She’s a stripper who is an aspiring poet, which she hides from everyone else at the club. While attending poetry readings, she’s encouraged to continue writing by the poet/bookstore & coffeehouse owner, Dennis (Chris Hogan), who becomes romantically involved with her. Their romance is the most affecting one in the film. Stormy is an aging stripper whose life has a secret from the past (her character is undeveloped and goes nowhere). The fifth stripper featured is the youngest one, Jessie (Ayanna), who is just starting out in the business and tries to please everyone she meets. She will receive a terrible beating from one of the men she met at the club and is dating.
There’s also a Russian hit man (Mashkov) who stumbles upon the club while waiting for his target to show. He’s the mystery man who makes Angel’s day by sending her flowers and jewels. His part is the most undeveloped one in the film, and is peripheral to the main story.
There’s a lot of tepid exotic dancing as the girls’ writhe and slither around the pole, and there are a lot of titty shots. But filmmaker Michael Radford never gets to anything that means much as he throws together a lot of cliché situations, some uninteresting acting, a sketchy plot, and the film winds its way down to a trite ending.
The weak storyline, the forgettable performances, the unnecessary two hour length, and its not-for-prime-time look, take away from its few moments worth savoring–when Hogan and Oh read their sensitive original poems.
REVIEWED ON 1/5/2002 GRADE: C –
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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