(director/writer: Tom DiCillo; cinematographer: Frank G. DeMarco; editor: Paul Zucker; music: Anton Sanko; cast: Steve Buscemi (Les Galantine), Michael Pitt (Toby Grace), Alison Lohman (K’Harma Leeds), Gina Gershon (Dana), Callie Thorne (Gabi), Kevin Corrigan (Ricco), Elvis Costello (himself), Jack Gwaltney (Chuck Sirloin), Cinqué Lee (Corey), Tom Aldredge (Les’s father), Doris Belack (Les’s mother); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Salerno; eace Arch Entertainment; 2006)
“Leaves us with the same old familiar and empty Hollywood storyline on the world of celebrity culture.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer-director and former cinematographer Tom DiCillo’s (“Living In Oblivion”/”Box of Moonlight”/”The Real Blonde”) spoof on celebrities is sometimes funny but mostly is as disingenuous as those its parodying. The film turns mushy as it loses its good starting edge it briefly earns by ripping into all those chasing after fame by soon turning fully to its banal rags to riches story. It leaves us instead with a silly contrived romance with the same old familiar and empty Hollywood storyline on the world of celebrity culture.
It’s viewed through the eyes of a sleazy Big Apple member of the paparazzi, Les Galantine (Steve Buscemi), who is awed by fame and lives a quiet life of desperation, and also through the eyes of a 20-year-old homeless slightly retarded hunky drifter named Toby Grace (Michael Pitt).
The hapless Toby runs into a pack of paparazzi stalking pop star K’Harma Leeds (Alison Lohman) in the street and ingratiates himself with low-life Les by getting him coffee. Later that night Toby shows up at the doorsteps of Les’s dumpy apartment in Chinatown and volunteers to be his assistant for free and in exchange is given a bed in the hall closet to call his private room. The highlight of the apartment is a wall poster of a mouse caught in a toilet bowl beneath the words “Go with the flow,” which happens to be Les’s motto in life and his computer password. Small-time operator Les is in need of approval from anyone and uses the kid to bolster his insecure status derived from a childhood where his grim parents were always disapproving and verbally abusive.
Toby runs errands for the bossy and name-dropping Les, who loves playing big shot to the gullible, low-key and scraggy Toby. While teaching the kid the ropes to his profession he takes him along to celebrity functions and teaches him how to get his hands on the gift bags holding goodies that each function provides its guests. At one such charity function the innocent dopey talking Les attracts the attention of savvy and lusty casting director Dana (Gina Gershon), who is looking for an unknown to star in a new TV reality show to play with sincerity a homeless person. Toby meets an unhappy K’Harma at the street entrance before she enters the charity function and the diva, a Britney Spears like mediocre, who was just dumped by her vain celebrity boyfriend, takes Toby backstage and afterwards invites him back to her hotel for a chaste night together in the jacuzzi.
Toby becomes an overnight celebrity because of his stardom on the hit soap opera TV show, which freaks out the jealous Les as he feels left out and betrayed believing his friendship made this all possible for the ungrateful kid and thereby creates a vengeance-seeking scene to bring him down as a phony before actually recoiling and becoming star-struck over his former assistant who is now being photographed by the paparazzi.
Never offering anything fresh about idol worship or the shallow stars who are all about their manufactured images, as it mostly shoots for easy laughs at the expense of the air-headed starlets and those who are foolishly star-struck. Nevertheless the all too familiar story gets over due to the tour de force comical turns by Pitt and, especially, by a seedy Buscemi who makes you feel his hurts (each bouncing off their opposites with perfect comical timing) and in addition there’s a funny vulgar performance by the aggressive Gershon. It best serves as a mildly diverting low-rent King of Comedy type of satire.
REVIEWED ON 1/23/2009 GRADE: B-