by Greg Muskewitz
Psycho Beach Party isn't a very good party, or movie, because the intended ammo is all blanks, despite some definite funny moments. Aside from the stiff script, something that hardly works as a movie, which is odd because it seems as if it would have been harder to do as a play, even though it is adapted here by the playwright Charles Busch. Soon enough, the situations fall flat, and not enough of the characters are unique from the next to keep interest up.A group of teens head to the beach for the summer to get tans and boys. With the surfboard serving as a "phallic symbol," the surfer dudes are the hot item among the hormonal girls. Florence (Lauren Ambrose) is just getting used to teenhood, but she'd rather forget about getting breasts, and learn how to surf. Soon she's dubbed Chicklet, but isn't fully accepted by her crush Starcat (Nicolas Brendon) and the surf god Kanaka (Thomas Gibson). Then her split personality, which is later diagnosed as "morbidly episodes of psychotic schizophrenia," Ann Bowman begins to turn heads. ("Who do I have to fuck in this dump to get a hot dog?!")
"I like the concept, but the goods aren't delivered."
A movie star (Kimberley Davies), known for B-grade horror flicks, has come to the beach to retreat from the stresses of Hollywood. ("Everybody wanted a piece. I'm not a pepperoni!") Suddenly there are murders occurring all over the beach. Homicide detective, Captain Monica Stark (Charles Busch in drag) begins to investigate. The list of suspects begins to stretch as long as that of the Scream trilogy.
Somewhat of an amalgamation of the '50s beach movies, '60s drug movies, and '70s slasher movies, Psycho Beach Party definitely has a hilarious concept --the surfer chick with split personalities (an S&M dominatrix, an attitudey black girl, a Spanish opera singer) possibly murdering all these doofy characters. It seems like such an easy target to parody, but there are so many lull points during Beach Party that it sags like a bathing suit with a crotch full of sand; the humor is inconsistent.
It is mostly a spoof of the campy Gidget, where instead of Hawaii, it's LA. We have the same naÔve protagonist, instead of Moondoggie we have Starcat, instead of Kahuna, we have Kanaka, etc. Whether you get it or not, it makes little difference because it just is not enough fuel. (I was able to get all the reference just by reading the back of the videobox to Gidget.)
The cast is very energetic, but not very talented. Gibson, Brendon, Matt Keeslar and Davies are intermendiarily passable, but Ambrose and Kathleen Robertson were very good. Ambrose, a peppy and vivacious gal steals each scene she is in without upstaging the other actors. She is cute, apparently multi-talented, and very energetic. I anticipate seeing her in something in the future. Amy Adams is also all right, but more just for being a pretty face.
There is a lot of gay subtext in the movie, a campy feeling, but a ridiculous and detrimental one. According to the press kit and Busch, Chicklet/Florence was really a guy in the play, with all these female split personalities bursting out. In the movie, there is also Busch's drag role, which I am unsure if it is supposed to be an in-joke, and then the homoeroticism of the surfer dudes. It isn't titillating, it's teasing. It's very, very silly. But the unwarranted inclusion of the gay subject matter where it really isn't needed, is another pejorative that Psycho Beach Party must face and never manages to overcome. There is potential, but no deliverance.
Robert Lee King's direction is too theatrical to crossover into the movie, and he seems very overwhelmed by it. And as a whole, the movie is completely over-edited by Suzanne Hines, who goes ballasticly kinetic on us. Our eyes cannot focus on a frame to achieve comfortability before it is cut and cut and cut again. I assume that Hines is a total dilettante, and I don't feel challenged enough to look it up in the press kit.Final Verdict: D+.
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originally posted: 01/07/01 08:56:47