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Party Animals: Chloë Sevigny (middle) and Macaulay Culkin (right) are all dressed up with nowhere to go in 'Party Monster.'

K Chronicles

Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green don their glad rags as the notorious Club Kids in 'Party Monster'

By Richard von Busack

IT'S NOT ABOUT nice people, and that's a start. Still, the question in Party Monster is whether the two anti-heroes' not-niceness is sturdy enough to hang a tale upon. The eyebrow-raiser here is the stunt-acting by Macaulay Culkin, playing a bisexual murderer named Michael Alig, lipsticked and dressed in a variety of trashy party costumes, circa 1993. Is it a real surprise to see Culkin turn to murder after all those death traps in the Home Alone trilogy? Culkin's performance yields in subtlety to Seth Green's. As "James St. James," Green plays a would-be writer, a trust-fund wastrel. Like that character in Camus' novel The Plague, St. James seems to have spent most of his life trying to polish one beautiful paragraph.

Green has one sweet trick here. After some of his remarks, he emits a mirthless haw-haw that shows his relation to the social fritillaries that would have hovered around Beau Brummel or, years later, Oscar Wilde. It's the old British upper-class-twit chuckle, now in the mouth of a man whose idea of heaven is getting listed in Michael Musto's column in the Village Voice. St. James' book Disco Blood Bath was the source for Party Monster. In it, the author tells of having attracted a little parasite of his own: Michael Alig, who tries to outdo St. James' ideas for decadent parties, thrown under the name "Club Kids." While St. James manages to rally as a writer, Michael falls apart.

Party Monster has a good deal in common with Stephen Frears' biopic of Joe Orton, Prick Up Your Ears, but the artistic legacy of Michael Alig isn't as durable as What the Butler Saw or Loot. We're assured that Michael and St. James are people worth remembering, for inaugurating a scene that revolved around throwing costume parties and dosing on animal tranquilizer (Special K, a cousin to Angel Dust). At worst, Party Monster contributes to cultural inflation. Also, it's underproduced, which is a liability in a film that's really a biography of a scene, not of two people. While directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato insist they wanted to limit the scenes of dancers bouncing around at various New York discos, the interiors close in on you. Dylan McDermott plays Peter Gatien, the enigmatic, eye-patch-wearing owner of the disco Limelight, where the Club Kids operated. His character provides a chance to give us an outsider's perspective on the magic of the Club Kids. But it's never clear what exactly he got from the company of Alig and St. James.

Eventually, Michael finds a Nancy to his Sid. She is called "Gitsie" and is played by the heroin-chic Dietrich, Chloë Sevigny. Sevigny doesn't need to makeup to get that fever-struck look favored by New York club habitués. In one scene where she and Michael bathe in a motel bathtub, they laugh and tease and end by peeing on each other. In this scene, we catch an instant of what the Club Kids always claimed to be about--happy childishness, spontaneity and human feelings--instead of what they really stood for: nonstop posturing and status seeking.

Party Monster (Unrated; 98 min.), directed and written by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, photographed by Teodoro Maniaci and starring Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green and Chloë Sevigny, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the September 4-10, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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