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In the Club

Bad medicine: Culkin, Sevigny, and Green
photo: Strand Releasing

It's not easy to film euphoria—just check out Groove. I was hoping for some swoony transport from Party Monster, the story of club kid Michael Alig's rise to infamy as a nightlife fabulist and, eventually, a callous killer who murdered drug dealer Angel Melendez in 1996. Scenesters-turned-directors Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey already made a 1998 true-crime doc about Alig, so this feature should have been all about capturing the vortex vibe of hard-drugging Limelight bacchanal. But Party never gets rolling.

Evidently, Barbato and Bailey scripted their demiurge with Macaulay Culkin in mind, impressed with his tween-sploit turn in The Good Son. So sad then, that their quintessential bad seed makes such a rotten fruit. From his first direct-address declarative burst, the robotically "gay" Culkin telegraphs cluelessness. Alig, an obnoxiously charming Indiana-bred busboy who latched onto celebutantes like drag-darling James St. James, was a thirsty sponge, absorbing the minutiae of low-rent socialite protocol. Culkin's bitchy 'tude often seems a mix of self-congratulation and coasting.

Seth Green takes a victory lap as the couture-ific St. James. He seems to have an inner life, and looks badass in bindi and blueface. But Culkin's unmodulated yelling makes banter between St. James and Alig less snarky bend-n-snap and more Terrance-and-Philip. Dylan McDermott's Peter Gatien recalls an eye-patched Easter Island statue, and Chloë Sevigny phones in to remind us of her club cred, but a stunning Marilyn Manson is Cindy Sherman-hot as a frowsy amazon.

The murder of Angel is dutifully dramatized, but aside from a dumpster-hideout kiss between Mac and Wilmer Valderrama, the dirty DV never nails the queasy buried-alive V.I.P. séance of Limelight and Tunnel, or the Pied Piper pleasure-pain of it all. Intimates might get nostalgic—original club kids play extras—but the film is ultimately more a C.A.K.E. partyer's failed fetish object than a keg partyer's new Sid and Nancy.

Before prison, Alig clocked time at the rock-vomitous Hotel Chelsea as did his drug-rat forebear Dee Dee Ramone. In a 1992 filmed interview with punk doc vet Lech Kowlaski, released now as the instant-classic Hey Is Dee Dee Home, the late icon talks candidly (did he ever not?) about his life, using his tattoos and the penning of "Chinese Rocks" as narrative touchstones. On a dark set, between strums and archival clips, this master raconteur exudes his own brand of obnoxious charm, the kind that can only be possessed, never imitated.


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