Admit it: Part of you, maybe even a big part, has always wanted to see Macaulay Culkin play a drug-addicted homosexual murderer. It seems fitting that in his first film role in nearly a decade, the former child star should re-emerge in a part that is so obviously adult, and even better that it’s a prurient, indecent sort of part.
“Party Monster” is based on James St. James’ fact-based book “Disco Bloodbath,” about the Club Kid scene of New York of the late 1980s, and in particular about James’ best friend Michael Alig, the leader of the group who wound up killing a drug-dealer friend of theirs. It is the first dramatic work by writers/directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, documentarians whose previous work include the excellent “Eyes of Tammy Faye” and the first “Party Monster,” which was a documentary covering the same material as the new, dramatized film.
The territory, then, is familiar to Bailey and Barbato, and they excellently recreate the era in question in this vivid, often hallucinatory film. The Club Kids were a cultish lot of young punks, mostly from privileged homes, who, in the words of Michael Alig, wanted life to be one big party. They wore outrageous costumes, both in everyday life and at the dance clubs, and they indulged in as many drugs as they could get their hands on. Sexuality was ambiguous and almost beside the point. In the film, Michael and James, while platonic, are certainly gay, but there’s more pageantry to it than hormones. Flamboyance and affectation are the key — style, not substance.
That’s what leads to the film’s troubles, in fact. The lead performances — Culkin as Michael and Seth Green as James — are more than fabulous, full of such mincing and posing as befits the highly entertaining characters. At the same time, though, it is never clear whether Culkin and Green are playing the characters or parodying them. Michael and James are figures who strive to avoid taking anything seriously, including themselves. But with few unguarded moments for us to see them as they truly are, we get no closer to them than their casual observers do. Life is just a show for the Club Kids, but isn’t the point of a movie supposed to be to take us behind the scenes, to bring down the facade?
The film certainly has style, though, and it is often very funny. Bailey and Barbato allow Michael and James to compete as narrators, each vying for attention, just as they did among their friends. Marilyn Manson has an amusing turn as their wacked-out friend Christina, and Wilmer Valderrama is sweetly clueless as Michael’s allegedly straight boyfriend. It’s a fun movie, for the most part. Its only trouble is that it doesn’t add up to as much as it thinks it does.
B- (1 hr., 37 min.; )