Los Angeles Times

Psycho Beach Party


Friday August 25, 2000

     "Psycho Beach Party" has to be twice as funny a play as it is as a movie.It's too much filmed theater to come alive fully on the screen, and it doesn't help that spoofing schlocky movies of the '50s, '60s and even '70s is not exactly virgin territory. What's more, deliberate camp like this film presents a special challenge: It must generate and sustain a high level of energy or it will swiftly fall flat. The latter is too often the case here.
     Charles Busch displays a wild imagination in conflating motifs from various film genres of the eras in dizzying fashion and can certainly write amusingly absurd dialogue, but he didn't turn out to be the best person to adapt his own play for the screen. What was needed is someone who could substitute chunks of dialogue with action and then a director who could jump-start the convoluted plot and keep it racing along.
     Robert Lee King's workmanlike direction is not what unabashed silliness needs to keep it bubbling. "Psycho Beach Party," set in an affectionately evoked 1962, could sure use a jolt of John Waters' "Cecil B. Demented."
     Perky, redheaded Lauren Ambrose plays Florence, nicknamed Chicklet, a teen with multiple personalities a la "Three Faces of Eve," but that doesn't stop her from trying to get the boys at Malibu to teach her how to surf. She eventually wins over the king of the beach, Kanaka (Thomas Gibson). Amid all the shenanigans, a serial killer also is simultaneously stalking the teens, and all the key figures are so eccentric that any of them may be the culprit. (In the midst of riding a big wave, Kanaka breaks into a danse du ventre, a wacky throwaway visual touch that the movie could use lots more of.)
     Among the kooks are Berdine (Danni Wheeler), Lauren's brilliant, nerdy best pal, a seemingly latent lesbian who becomes a girl friday to a horror picture starlet, Bettina (Kimberley Davies), who's living in a supposedly haunted beach house--the scene of a mass murder--and who is herself apparently a dominatrix in her private life.
     Then there's Lauren's man-hating but sex-starved widowed mother (Beth Broderick) and Lars (Matt Keeslar), a dim Swedish exchange student, and even the nice guy (Nicholas Brendon) Chicklet should end up with if she ever gets a grip on all those personalities. About the only people formidable police captain Monica Stark (Busch in drag) can pretty much rule out as suspects are ultra-buff surfer dudes Provoloney (Andrew Levitas) and Yo Yo (Nick Cornish), who have only eyes for each other but in keeping with the times try to play straight.

Psycho Beach Party, 2000. Unrated. A Strand Releasing presentation of a Strand/New Oz and Red Horse Films production. Director Robert Lee King. Producers Ginny Biddle, Jon Gerrans, Marcus Hu and Victor Syrmis. Executive producer John Hall. Screenplay by Charles Busch; based on his play. Cinematographer Arturo Smith. Editor Suzanne Hines. Music Ben Vaughn. Costumes Camille Jumelle. Production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone. Art director Alberto Gonzalez-Reyna. Set decorator Anna Shea. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Lauren Ambrose as Florence. Thomas Gibson as Kanaka. Nicholas Brendon as Starcat. Kimberley Davies as Bettina.

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