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[whitespace] John Saxon
Magnate Personality: John Saxon plays a wealthy publishing bigwig whose daughter is the object of a ransom scheme gone wrong.

Paltry Party

Another denizen of the barely OK independent films scene

By Richard von Busack

BEFORE PHIL LEIRNESS' filmmaking abilities are discussed, he must first be exposed as a résumé-padder. On the press packet, one reads that Leirness' The Party Crashers had been praised by Metro for its "hilarious and delightful script." However, the clipping enclosed in the press packet was from Frank Elley's write-up in the Cinequest 1999 catalog, reproduced with a Metro byline pasted underneath. I don't know why Leirness went to these lengths, when there are critics who did like The Party Crashers. David Manning of the Bridgeport Press personally told me he loved it.

Some excerpts from the actual Metro review of The Party Crashers, by Michelle Goldberg, published in February 1999: "Stuffed with indie and action clichés ... lacking both energy and narrative coherence ... still manages a few amusing moments. The familiar plot deals with three cute, good-natured but down-on-their-luck guys out for one big score. In a fairly inexplicable ransom scheme, they crash a chi-chi soiree attended by a publishing heiress in an attempt to milk $5 million from her parents (why they didn't just kidnap her without a few dozen of her friends is never quite explained). . . . The girls at the party treat the gunmen like celebrities, and everyone involved harbors hopes of parlaying their involvement into book and movie deals. This conceit is a nice touch in a film that otherwise never overcomes its weak screenplay and general listlessness."

Better than that I cannot do. There are indeed a few amusing moments, but it's the old whine in a not very new bottle: a group of preppyish, frustrated writers and actor/waiters in L.A. decide to snatch the rich girl--played by the likably inept Shawnee Smith. During the course of the all-night party, almost everyone gets Stockholm Syndrome in about five minutes: "You want me to be your personal hostage? I thought you'd never ask," murmurs one victim. For added suspense, we cut back to the parents of the girl in question, keeping an all-night vigil: "What now?" asks the mom. "[Significant pause] We wait," says the dad (top-billed John Saxon).

There's hope for writer/producer/star/director Leirness; he's certainly technically competent. The photography here is by Matthew Libatique, Darren Arnofsky's cinematographer on Pi and Requiem for a Dream. The Party Crashers has an original score performed by Sid Hillman, who seems to be the only one in the movie who's been honing a performance. And to be fair, this is a two-year-old early film by the former valley resident who is reportedly in postproduction on a new version of The Story of O. In some circles, The Story of O is considered a classic; maybe hostage situations are going to be a signature theme for Leirness. There's no shame in making quality erotica, and I'd really prefer to see poor little O get roughed up again than to endure another fake, half-hearted criminal drama with no tension and no atmosphere, done with such amateurish disregard to the most elementary technique that the villain is killed off-screen.

The Party Crashers (Unrated; 77 min.), directed and written by Phil Leirness, photographed by Matthew Libatique and starring John Saxon and Shawnee Smith, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the July 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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