3 stars (out of four)
Writer-director Tom DiCillo takes the same approach to his films as he has to his career: There's a general theme, but the execution is all over the place. A former cinematographer for Jim Jarmusch (on "Permanent Vacation" and "Stranger Than Paradise"), DiCillo spent eight years trying to make it as an actor, then started writing and directing funny, sometimes scathing, but always scattershot films that channeled his experiences, such as "The Real Blonde" and "Living In Oblivion." His new "Delirious" is similarly focused on the entertainment industry, and similarly wandering: It's a comedy about friendship, a satire about fame, a tragedy, a romance and even, briefly, a thriller. Inevitably, in trying to do everything at once, DiCillo overreaches, but in spite of the off-tone moments and thematic distractions, "Delirious" is engaging, intelligent and enjoyable.
Steve Buscemi continues his endless string of lovable-loser roles as freelance tabloid photographer Les Galantine, a bottomless font of catchphrases and self-important lectures. He finds a respectful audience in sweet, vapid street kid Toby Grace ("The Dreamers'." Michael Pitt) who hopefully clings to Les, going rapidly from "Can I fetch you coffee?" to "Can I crash at your place?" They seem like an unlikely pair, but they're well suited to each other. They're both damaged and lonely, and they're both struggling to preserve their fragile dignity--when called "paparazzi," Les repeatedly snaps that he's a "licensed professional." When called homeless, Toby insists that he's just "moving around right now." They're both discomfitingly desperate, but DiCillo ably captures a relationship give-and-take that gradually makes them sympathetic, too. At least until Toby blunders into the orbit of childish pop star K'Harma (Alison Lohman), and into more success than Les has ever known.
DiCillo is at his best when he avoids being invasive and just lets his nervy, quirky cast take the lead. But he apparently can't resist a few blatant cinematographer's-dream moments, like Toby's slow-motion, flower-petal-drenched stroll through a New York morning, or his too-literal brush with the warm, glowing light of fame. And some of the humor--particularly regarding K'Harma's lingerie lifestyle and groveling sycophants--gets broad and clumsy. But DiCillo's discursive, distracted style has its advantages. It's hard to anticipate at any point where the film will go next, and every scene is a sunny surprise. His latest project isn't quite delirious, but it amounts to a bright, pleasantly entertaining fever dream.
Written and directed by Tom DiCillo; photographed by Frankie DeMarco; edited by Paul Zucker; production design by Teresa Mastropierro; music by Anton Sanko, produced by Bob Salerno. An Artina Films release; opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre. Running time: 1:42. No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for sexual situations, profanity).
Les Galantine - Steve Buscemi
Toby Grace - Michael Pitt
K'Harma Leeds - Alison Lohman
Dana - Gina Gershon