Judge Clark Douglas is going to make you read this review and record footage of you crying about how terrible it is.
Art always has a price.
Satire is a tricky thing. There are few things more enjoyably lacerating than a fine-tuned satire like Dr. Strangelove, Wag the Dog, The Player, or In the Loop, but for every satirical gem in the history of cinema there's at least a dozen misguided imitators. It's so very easy to stumble in the genre; so tempting to push too far or make a hidden point too obvious. Sadly, Duncan Ward's Boogie Woogie falls into most of the usual genre traps, delivering an attack on the London art gallery scene which too often defuses its own savagery with overstated clumsiness.
Much of the film revolves around a famous piece of modern art, the first painting in the esteemed "Boogie Woogie" series. The piece may not look like much, but it's worth tens of millions of dollars. Its owner is an elderly gentleman named Alfred Rhinegold (Christopher Lee, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones), who bought the piece from the original artist some 50 years ago. Now the Rhinegold family has fallen upon hard times and is being forced to consider selling the painting. Alfred is very hesitant to do so, but his wife Alfreda (Joanna Lumley, Ella Enchanted) pushes him firmly in that direction. She hires a dealer named Art Spindle (Danny Huston, The Proposition) to handle the sale, as Art has a reputation for knowing how to milk great artwork for everything it's worth.
The attempt to sell the painting kicks off a series of complications and betrayals involving a wide variety of players, including Art's sneaky assistant (Heather Graham, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me), a wealthy buyer (Stellan Skarsgard, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) and his wife (Gillian Anderson, The X-Files), an ambitious young artist (Jack Huston, Eastwick), a former politician's daughter (Amanda Seyfried, Chloe), a shy veteran of the art world (Alan Cumming, Tin Man), and a controversial video artist (Gemma Atkinson, HollyOaks).
The general idea fueling Boogie Woogie is that the members of this particular subculture are greedy, sleazy, self-serving, pretentious scumbags who will do all kinds of awful, stupid things in the name of "art." Despite the fact that Ward and his fellow filmmakers are well-versed in the details of this world, the satire is simply too broad and simplistic to make much of an impact. We've seen this sort of thing before too many times, and pretensions are better deflated with a subtle pin than with a sledgehammer. Its ensemble-driven nature reminds one of Robert Altman at times, though its poor craftsmanship and misguided satire reminds one more of Altman's bloated Ready to Wear than anything else. The lean 94-minute running time keeps Boogie Woogie from getting too tedious, but I still found myself checking my watch a good bit after discovering that the film wasn't going anywhere interesting.
There's genuine potential lurking within the material, and not just because the cast is loaded with talented people. There are moments that reminded me of Terry Zwigoff's considerably smarter Art School Confidential; little touches that manage to pack a small punch. I particularly enjoyed some of Huston's wheeling and dealing, his carefully measured artificial laughter being dispensed at an alarmingly generous rate. However, the material too often becomes groan-worthy (the neon sign sporting the words "Trust Me" in Huston's office) and overcooked (I loathed the entirely unconvincing little subplot about the lesbian video artist who does terrible things to all of her friends and lovers for the sake of her art).
Huston's sleazy charm is probably the high point of the film acting-wise, as the generally impressive cast is largely wasted on poorly-written roles. The women seem to fare the worst, as Anderson, Seyfriend, Graham and Atkinson are ultimately depicted as little more than devious sexpots (only Charlotte Rampling comes away from the proceedings without having to prostitute herself to get what she wants), while the men just aren't really given much of interest to do. Alan Cumming is the only member of the cast who manages to feel like a real human being.
The DVD transfer is pretty solid, spotlighting the colorful image with reasonable clarity and depth. Detail is solid and the image is quite crisp. Audio is solid, though the prancing score gets fairly grating after a short time. Extras are limited to a theatrical trailer and a tv spot.
I can see why some might want to give Boogie Woogie a look (particularly given the actors involved), but I found most of it a frustrating waste of time.
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