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Party Monster (October 23/03)

Not only does Party Monster represent Macaulay Culkin's first film role in several years, but it also marks the first time he's exposed his bare ass on camera. He's playing a seedier character than we're used to, indulging in drugs and the like, and he's clearly trying to leave his Home Alone type image behind him. Though this may perhaps be a tad far in the opposite direction, it's hard to fault Culkin for wanting to show off his newfound adulthood.

The film's based on a book called Disco Bloodbath by James St. James, a club kid that eventually finds himself involved in a murder. James is played by Seth Green, while Culkin portrays his protege, Michael Alig. The two become prominent in the club kid scene - which, as far as I can tell, involves partying and dressing up in bizarre costumes - but the fun eventually stops, with the introduction of drugs into their lifestyle.

Initially, Party Monster is surprisingly enjoyable - primarily due to the fast pace and off-kilter sense of humor employed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (both of whom wrote and directed the film). They often allow characters to speak directly to the audience and acknowledge that they're in a movie, a device which borders on smugness but somehow works. The film's tone is initially one of cheeky irreverence, complimented by the go-for-broke performances by Green and Culkin. Though it does take a while to get used to their admittedly odd style of acting - what with the affected accents and bizarre clothing - the two actors eventually leave behind their respective images and manage to become these unique (putting it kindly) men.

But, like the majority of flicks that prominently feature drug use, the whole thing begins to sink into darkness and finally just turns into an unpleasant experience. Films like Requiem for a Dream work only because they embrace their seediness and keep things dark all the way through. But here, the movie fools us into thinking we're watching a light and poppy story about a pair of gregarious good-time guys - and for a while, it works on that level. But Bailey and Barbato can't resist adding some social commentary to the mix (namely, drugs are bad) and the movie turns into a preachy sermon. The downward spiral of James and Alig may mirror real-life events, but accuracy doesn't necessarily translate into entertainment (and besides, who's looking for accuracy in a film featuring Marilyn Manson as a cross-dressing simpleton?)

Party Monster is probably going to be remembered as notable, either because it marked the beginning of a new phase of Culkin's career or it effectively ended it. At any rate, it's a mildly amusing look at the kind of lifestyle most of us will never know.

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