“Plot keywords: drugs, glamour, party, rent boy, sex, bisexual, celebrity, con artist, male model”
Say, who’s that old queen in the corner? Why, it’s John Malkovich, having a fairy good time as the flamingly incandescent Alan Conway, a low-budget con artist in Merrie Old England who apparently managed to pick up both cash and companionship in the nineties by passing himself off as reclusive film genius Stanley Kubrick.
Well, why not? By being ourselves, we only bore ourselves, as well as others. Why not add a little hope and glamour to the downtrodden lives of the no-talent wannabes who crowd our great cities? Why, after all, should we have to actually know celebrities — the Liz’s, the Liza’s, not to mention the Miss Kirk Douglas’s1 — in order to drop their names? If we actually met them, we’d probably be bored silly. Why not cut to the chase, cut to the fun? And if our marks — head-banging heavy metal “artists,” Pakistani “actors” — waken in the morning, pockets lighter and dreams shattered …, OK, I can’t come up with a pat answer for everything. Maybe they’ll never get to Camelot, but at least they thought they were on the way, for an hour or two.
For the first half hour of Colour Me Kubrick, that’s how it goes. Alan/Stanley, who looks like he shops at Ascots R Us, is always one step ahead of the hapless dreamers who fairly fight to finance him. They’re an endearingly dim lot, no brains and low accents, and if they’re fonder of crisps and lager than pilates, well, what’s more “authentic,” more working class, than fat?
It’s a good gag, but Alan runs into trouble when he starts to let the gag control him. Being taken out to dinner by some young lads, he runs across a real celebrity, New York Times theater critic Frank Rich,2 and doesn’t resist introducing himself. When he tries to “return” a Mont Blanc pen, the salesgirl says they don’t give cash. Trying to relax in a pickup bar, he’s outed by a rent boy/cinéaste (the woods are full of them) when he commits the monumental gaffe of accepting praise for directing Judgment at Nuremberg. That was Stanley Kramer, not Stanley Kubrick, you idiot!3
Later, we see poor Alan hitting bottom, wallowing in self-hatred and self-pity. I hate being Alan Conway! He’s disgusting! I want to be Stanley Kubrick! Why can’t I be Stanley Kubrick! Worst of all, we see him thrashing around in his underwear, and the sight of a middle-aged man in his underwear, well, it’s ugly, as ugly as truth.
Having given us so much truth — too much, really — the picture never quite recovers its momentum. Alan does find a new mark, a third-rate Tom Jones (Jim Davidson) who could never figure out how to make it in the States. Adopting a Brit style Noo Yawk accent, Alan assures the dude that his future is Vegas, baby, Vegas! Alan joins the entourage at a seaside resort hotel, at once tacky and pretentious, where he endures what is presumably gay hell, watching fat old straights dance to big-band music.
Eventually, of course, he’s exposed, thanks to Frank Rich and other nosy journalists. In a not very clever twist, he fakes a nervous breakdown and is sent to government institution, where his female Asian doctor buys his act completely. Dumb broads! Dumb Asians! The flick ends with Alan “recovering” in a UK version of Betty Ford’s, hanging with rock stars and relaxing in the Jacuzzi.4
OK, the plot could have used some more work. Director Cook and screenwriter Anthony Frewin, both of whom worked with the real Kubrick,5 haven’t come up with much more than a handful of scenes and gags. But despite the lack of plot, the picture’s worth renting. There is, or at least there ought to be, a place for low-key, half-assed films with a subversive streak. They have to have John Malkovich in them, of course. Because without Big John, you got no picture.
- In a way too clever in-joke Malkovich drops his own name, but of course no one knows who the fuck he is. Way too cute, and way too easy! [↩]
- Frank Rich, “the butcher of Broadway”, who wrote theater reviews for the Times from 1980 to 1993, now writes about “life,” to little effect. A furious critic of George Bush from the get-go, he manages to miss that enormous target 90 percent of the time. Even though I don’t care for Rich, it seems unsporting to have him played by the very fat William Hootkins, even if Rich is that fat. [↩]
- Poor Alan even has to pay for the drinks in this one. Ouch! [↩]
- This was way too lazy for me, and, besides, the gig is only good for four weeks. I would have preferred Alan to have ended up in something lower profile and longer lasting — say as towel boy in the men’s locker room on the Baywatch set. [↩]
- So they say. [↩]