3 stars (out of four)
In "Color Me Kubrick," John Malkovich has one of the roles of his life, and he acts it up like a haughty gourmet who's just picked up a succulent treat. Malkovich plays Alan Conway, a real-life British swindler who became famous for impersonating Stanley Kubrick.
This juicy part is a gift from director Brian Cook and writer Anthony Frewin to the Steppenwolf-bred star, who excels at doing elegant creeps--and plays one of the creepiest and most elegant of his career here. The movie is also a bizarre, "true-ish" story (according to its playful subtitle). Conway convinced dozens of people that he was the director of "Dr. Strangelove" despite the fact that he looked and acted nothing like Kubrick and had seen none of his films--or indeed even read about them.
Malkovich doesn't look like Kubrick either, but he plays him with chameleonic zest. Decked out in flamboyant Brit-glam wardrobes, he switches accents from decadent British to crass nasal-American while wandering through London, fleecing strangers who become idiotically starstruck at the thought of meeting the great director. Conway dupes sucker after sucker even though he's so cinematically ignorant that he would sometimes accept praise for making movies like "Judgment at Nuremberg," which was directed by Stanley Kramer.
Conway, a promiscuous homosexual, would pretend to be Kubrick, and, capitalizing on Kubrick's reclusive lifestyle and absence from the public eye, proceed to trick his pigeons out of sex or money or both. Most of the victims were too embarrassed afterward to admit they'd been fooled, and Conway kept operating even when the real Kubrick found out it. Finally, Conway was exposed and his fate, shown and described here, is as ironic and maddening as everything else about him.
Malkovich is an actor of curious, proud eccentricity. Here, Cook surrounds him with a great gallery of supporting dummies, dupes and cohorts, played by Leslie Phillips ("Venus"), Robert Powell (of Ken Russell's "Mahler"), Russell himself, Terence Rigby, Richard E. Grant, Luke Mably, Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore of "Goldfinger") and, most memorably, British TV star Jim Davidson as Lee Pratt, an "entertainment legend" who becomes yet another of Conway's conned legions.
That last, perhaps, is the most extreme example of the con artist's gift for exploiting false fame. How could Pratt or anyone else believe that the director of "2001" and "Clockwork Orange" would temporarily abandon his movie career to become the Las Vegas promoter of a Tom Jones-ish pop singer?
Conway has no redeeming characteristic, other than his entertainment value--and the fact that he inspired this film. Here, fittingly, he's being portrayed by Kubrick intimates. The director and writer of "Color Me Kubrick," Cook and Frewin, were longtime Kubrick associates. Frewin was Kubrick's personal assistant on "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) and every film that followed and Cook was assistant director on "Barry Lyndon" (1975), "The Shining" (1980) and "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999).
Obviously they love Kubrick, whose widow cooperated with the movie. But they don't necessarily hate Conway, liar and creep though he is. Perhaps they envy him a little. Even grabbing some counterfeit greatness can be pleasing in an age that worships fame and deifies mediocrity.
'Color Me Kubrick'
Directed by Brian Cook; screenplay by Anthony Frewin; photographed by Howard Atherton; edited by Alan Strachan; music by Bryan Adams; production design by Crispian Sallis; produced by Cook, Michael Fitzgerald. A Magnolia Pictures release, opens Friday. Running time: 1:26. No MPAA rating (adult, for language, sensuality and sexual themes).
Alan Conway - John Malkovich
Lee Pratt - Jim Davidson
Jasper - Richard E. Grant
Rupert Rodnight - Luke Mably
Freddie - Leslie Phillips
Madame - Honor Blackman