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Psycho Bach Party

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Psycho Bach Party

Starring: Lauren Ambrose, Thomas Gibson
Director: Robert Lee King
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: August 2000
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Charles Busch, Nicholas Brendon, Kimberley Davies, Danni Wheeler, Nick Cornish, Andrew Levitas, Beth Broderick, Nathan Bexton

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Move over Jim Carrey. Lauren Ambrose may not have the star attraction that you enjoy, but while you played only two personalities (sorry, me and myself add up to only one), the pert Lauren Ambrose turns in three, maybe more, in the kitschy Charles-Busch scripted "Psycho Beach Party." Based on the hit off-Broadway play by the master of camp and successfully adapted to the big screen, "Psycho Beach Party" is not only about a naive kid so tired of being one of the only two people actually to watch a drive-in movie that she is determined to break out into real womanhood. No more "one of the guys" for Florence Forrest, who is dubbed Chicklet by the surfers who adopt her. This time it's personal, and the person she changes into every now and then is about as tough as Jim Carrey's Hank and in a way even more entertaining.

Like the character she is ever so loosely based on, Joanne Woodward in Nunnally Johnson's 1957 psychological feature "The Three Faces of Eve," Chicklet is three characters in one small bod just as the movie itself combines four genres-- some Hitchcockian suspense particularly when the killer is following his final would-be victim up a ladder; the Beach Blanket Bingo-Gidget Goes Hawaiian kitsch; the slasher flicks that have been parodied to death but not with the original style shown here; and a genre that could be called Charles Busch's own, transvestite buffoonery. (Busch shows that he can act as campy as he can write with the most comical role, that of police captain Monica Stark, who eventually solves the case and goes off into the woods with one of the Malibu Beach Adonises that director Robert Lee King trots out.)

King takes breaks from the murders by developing the characters that Chicklet runs into during her struggle to become a real woman. Most irritating is The Great Kanaka (Thomas Gibson), who is the movie's Big Kahuna in a way, a guy who seems trapped not only in the search for the big wave but in the France of the great playwright Moliere: he speaks perpetually in rhymes. Florence is spending the season not only with her mother (Beth Broderick), who insists that she does every night what every good woman does (needlepoint), and with a Swedish exchange student, Lars (Matt Keeslar). Florence is to make the big play for the heart of surfer drop- out Star Cat (Nicholas Brendon) during the movie's climactic celebration, a luau attended by all the youthful characters of the film.

Aside from putting across some of the cool lines, featuring non-sequiturs like "Some people are born to die" (uttered in a 50's style diner with pink-cushioned seats), Miller and Busch trash political correctness by featuring a mean cripple that would be the envy of Fellini and a movie star (Kimberly Davies) whose specialty is slasher films--where she plays a Marilyn Monroe-like bombshell but with three heads.

This is the sort of movie that even today's superstars might love to slum around in. The performers have fun without letting on with so much as a wink to the audience--and the audience should pick up on their merriment by getting with the spirit of the story.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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