2003, R, 98 min. Directed by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato. Starring Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green, Dylan McDermott, Marilyn Manson, Chloe Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, Diana Scarwid.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 7, 2003
Newsflash: I hung out at the Limelight in New York City, briefly, in the late Eighties, the selfsame superclub and former church that’s the setting of Party Monster, and although I had a ball exploring those labyrinthine corridors and eerie, cavernous arches, I never saw any clubkids killing each other or doing lines of the animal tranquilizer ketamine off their bare bottoms. Perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough, but, thankfully, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato have reconstructed the era – or part of it, anyway – in all its sick and wrong infamy. Sadly, however, Party Monster, which chronicles the rise of gay disco supastah promoter Michael Alig (Culkin) and his eventual descent into a hellish netherworld of bad drugs, bad sex, and bodily dismemberment, is the dullest film ever made about a murder involving ball-peen hammers and injectable drain cleaners. It ricochets from the catty histrionics forever batted back and forth by the needy Alig and his mentor James St. James (Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Green) to soulless meditations on the nature of fame and the need for recognition in a media-saturated society. The film’s biggest joke, of course, is that Alig went to prison before he was able to experience either our current climate of pro-gay media (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Boy Meets Boy) or the gutter-chic reality programming that presently deluges the airwaves. He would have loved them both, though, and doubtless embraced them to his pouting, garishly made-up lips. The story is an old one: Boy moves to the big city, decides to be a girl, meets an outrageous club promoter, usurps his power, gets the Feds interested in all the drugs swirling around, and bludgeons a young drug dealer to death before realizing that fame may be fleeting, but rhinestones are forever. Like its subjects, the outlandish, gender-bending kids who made up the short-lived clubkid movement in the mid-Eighties to mid-Nineties, Party Monster is sufferable only in very small doses. Free expression and gender empowerment are great things, but not in the hands of dimwits like the ones portrayed here, who steadfastly refuse to think beyond the next hit or the next party. Culkin is freakish as Alig, which, I suppose, is the point: Both he and Green mince enough lispy syllables to make flamboyant pronouncements of everything that comes out of their mouths, and the end result feels like some warped and mean-spirited parody of gay Eighties NYC nightlife – vaguely offensive and far too flamboyantly evil to be taken as anything but a dicey lark. It doesn’t help things, either, that the film was shot (badly) on digital video. Even a cameo by Marilyn Manson fails to render things more interesting than a bloody hangnail. Like Alig, Party Monster is a colorful mess, all style and substances and little else.