The Players Club

For all its gaga repetition, American Pimp manages a few suggestive narrative shards. The saga of Fillmore Slim and the L.A. track is a Tarantino flick waiting to be made. (And just how did Bishop Don Magic Juan get religion?) I appreciated as downbeat Americana the case of the retired pimp who turned blues singer so he could keep his wardrobe. And melancholy as a twilight western is the tale of the pimp called Rosebudd. Down to one last 'ho, he married her and turned square, working to support his family as a telemarketer.

Having impersonated a nattering Woody Allen in the execrable Celebrity, Kenneth Branagh goes the master one better with a high-flown equivalent of Allen's musical wannabe, Everyone Says I Love You. Branagh's cloddish adaptation of Love's Labour's Lost recasts the play as a faux 1930s musical—albeit one that suffers mightily for the absence of a few pimps and 'hos.

Guess which one’s Bishop Don Magic Juan.
photo: Seventh Art Releasing
Guess which one’s Bishop Don Magic Juan.


American Pimp
Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes
A Seventh Art release
Opens June 9

Loveís Labourís Lost
Adapted and directed by Kenneth Branagh
From the play by William Shakespeare
A Miramax release
Opens June 9

Branagh is not the first to imagine a musical version of LLL. The composer antihero of Thomas Mann's Dr. Faustus contemplated the play as the basis for an anti-Wagnerian opera. Branagh's own deal with the devil dictates that he alternate Irving Berlin anthems with severely shortened Shakespearean speeches, and stage them both with fart jokes so insipid they would embarrass Benny Hill. The result is a double travesty—a triple one, actually, if you consider the quality of the singing and dancing.

Hamming shamelessly as Berowne, Branagh is overseasoned for his part; leading his colleagues in a swishy version of "I'd Rather Charleston" or declaiming "I Won't Dance" (no such luck), he's as desperate as a veteran social director at a Catskills hotel about to fold. Alicia Silverstone, concentrating to the max as the Princess of France, handles her tongue-twister dialogue better than her musical numbers. Although her valiant surplus of chin-action gives a poignantly confessional spin to the line "A heavy heart bears not a nimble tongue," she's upstaged by her lady-in-waiting Rosaline, willowy Natascha McElhone, who can actually put across a song. Branagh's conception is so gratingly jolly that even a natural cutup like Nathan Lane is rendered tiresome—required to recite the first few choruses of "There's No Business Like Show Business" as a dirge before the bewigged chorus prances on.

Triple travesty? Why not a quadruple bypass? When the long-simmering war finally breaks out, Branagh orchestrates a tap dance in combat boots and pastiches the last scene of Casablanca, making a segue to actual World War II footage as his cast solemnly sings "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Ah, but they can. Remarkably tolerant to this point, the largely German audience with whom I saw LLL at the Berlin Film Festival seemed properly perplexed to find the destruction of their city (among other wartime horrors) accompanied by Branagh's lachrymose invocation of "the way you sing off-key."

Taking off from the Voice's year-decade-century's-end critics' poll (results still available online), BAMcinematek has scheduled a 16-film series, "The Village Voice: Best of the '90s," beginning this weekend with Todd Haynes's 1995 Safe (which topped the poll) and Cannes laureate Lars von Trier's 1996 Breaking the Waves. The series, which continues Saturdays and Sundays through July and features appearances by several Voice critics, also includes films by such reigning international masters as Jane Campion, Atom Egoyan, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Jim Jarmusch, Abbas Kiarostami, Mike Leigh, Martin Scorsese, and Wong Kar-wai. Among the rarities: Béla Tarr's seven-and-a-half-hour Sátántangó, Olivier Assayas's Cold Water (starring the young Virginie Ledoyen), and Werner Herzog's post-Gulf War doc, Lessons of Darkness.

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