MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP
Written and directed by George Hickenlooper
First Look, opens April 2, Angelika
The subject of George Hickenlooper's engaging, if ultimately wearisome, documentary is the Zelig-like Los Angeles scene maker and radio DJ Rodney Bingenheimer. Son of an autograph hound, Bingenheimer broke into the star-friendship biz in the mid '60sas a regular on the TV dance show Hullabaloo and as Davy Jones's body double. He later opened a club that introduced glam to Sunset Boulevard. "Rodney can anoint you," a grateful rock star explains. A wizened gnome with a bouffant hairdo, Rodney appears affable, although he throws a tantrum when he learns that a protégé has gotten a rival radio show. His apartment is crammed with memorabilia, but he's phenomenally vacant. Celebrity has never seemed more abstract than as refracted through the Joe Franklin obsessions and Warholian gee-whiz of this enigmatic figure. Indeed, although almost no one outside of L.A. has heard of Bingenheimer, the movie was acquired for $1.3 millionthe most for any doc after Bowling for Columbine. J. Hoberman
THE 2004 OSCAR SHORTS
opens March 26, Cinema Village
Can't remember if Australian Adam Elliot, whose Harvie Krumpet snagged the Best Animated Short Oscar, drowned in the orchestra's eviction lilt, but he did thank his "beautiful boyfriend" by name. Harvie, his gray Claymated creation, an Eastern European refugee who becomes a chain-smoking Aussie everyman, is also a beauty. Overcoming Tourette's twitches and semi-literacy, Harvie grabs a decent life of marriage, nudism, and animal lib, hewing closely to a book of "fakts" that keeps him buoyed. From birth cabin to nursing home, Elliot's graceful movie comes off as a mini-Candide with a Kinks-ish sense of longing. Also of note are two live-action nominees: Germany's The Red Jacket, which boomerangs from Bavaria to Sarajevo and back with the titular garment, while touching on transmigration of souls; and France's Squash, an all too true sporting gloss on a boss putting his subordinate's ball to the wall. Edward Crouse
SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED
Directed by Raja Gosnell
opens March 26
A less successful exploitation of Warner Bros. property than the recent Looney Tunes: Back in Action, the second installment in the Scooby-Doo franchise is at least no worse than its predecessor. (Given the series' penchant for splattering gooey material, Scooby 3-Doo can't be far behind.) The first film made it clear that the producers had heard the rumors about Fred; fortunately there's less emphasis on Freddie Prinze Jr.'s tired dumb jockisms this time around, and the overall gay-panic quotient is considerably lower. Despite a few engaging non sequiturs, including a pimped-out Scoob (complete with 'fro) inexplicably singing Sly Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," the movie eventually gets bogged down in simplistic "be yourself" moralizing destined to fail with its target audience. As one five-year-old critic at the press screening astutely observed during a would-be sensitive moment: "Boooorrring!" Joshua Land
DAWN OF THE DEAD
Directed by Zack Snyder
Universal, in release
It is, like most, an unnecessary remake, but the new, digitally boosted Dawn of the Dead brings it on with a 10-minute overture that might be the most upsetting tin-can apocalypse modern movies have ever seen. But that, and the high-tension-seizure opening credits that follow (news footage brilliantly scored to Johnny Cash hollering "The Man Comes Around"), are as good as it getsthe chilling experience of game-over social chaos wanes as the clichés set in, and the obligatory assortment of survivors (nurse Sarah Polley, cop Ving Rhames, resourceful white-collar nebbish Jake Weber) hunkers down in a Milwaukee mall. Slick as a blood puddle, car-ad auteur Zack Snyder's movie has money and technology George Romero never had, and uses it for maximum hurt, but the frantic action boils down relentlessly to a familiar beat-backbeat: zombie close-up, actor shooting gun, zombie head kerplooie. Give it credit for a sense of bad-luck entropy (a late-in-the-arc accident with a chainsaw is almost tragic), and its intimations of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, but only gore-thirsting teens will be satisfied. Michael Atkinson
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