'Die Mommie Die!' a Tired Satire

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2003

WITH ITS unsubtle, scattershot approach to the parody of such films as "Now, Voyager" and "Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte," playwright and drag performer Charles Busch's campy stage play "Die Mommie Die!" was probably a funny enough thing -- if you were in the mood for smutty jokes no less broad than its titular heroine's robustly masculine shoulders. As a movie, however, director Mark Rucker's film adaptation leaves a lot to be desired.

Make that dezhired, which is the way Busch pronounces the word, through clenched teeth, as the washed-up but still highly sexed singing sensation Angela Arden in this 1960s-set satire of suspense melodramas and the so-called women's pictures of mid-century Hollywood.

Forget refinement. Everything is over the top here, from Busch's illusion-be-damned portrayal of Angela (Dame Edna Everage looks more like a woman than she does) to the simile-ridden script, which includes such groan-inducing phrases as "you can't discard me like one of your false eyelashes," "dried up like a plate of blintzes in the Sahara" and "you slipped into my life like vermouth into a martini."

But that (and a murder by a poisoned rectal suppository) is to be expected from the playwright who gave us "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom." Everybody either wants to kill or have sex with everybody else here. Angela hates her husband (Philip Baker Hall), a movie producer who suspects that his wife has been cheating on him with television-star-turned-tennis-pro Jason Priestley, playing an indiscriminate gigolo who is soon servicing not only Arden's daughter (Natasha Lyonne) but also her son (Stark Sands), both of whom have their own issues with mother dearest.

There's also a mysterious maid (Frances Conroy) lurking in the background and enough allusions to a lost twin sister to make sure even the dullest audience member will arrive at the twist ending well before the script does.

All this probably worked much better as a stage production, where the clumsy, no doubt cheaply produced burlesque likely would have gone over well with a downtown (hopefully drunk) late-night audience and where the actors' pausing for laughs would have made more sense than it does in a movie, however optimistic.

What's strangest, though, about "Die Mommie Die!" is how material that was obviously so giddily irreverent in origin became so inert, so joyless and dull. It just goes to prove my personal rule of thumb, which is that any movie whose title features an exclamation point probably doesn't deserve one.

DIE MOMMIE DIE! (R, 90 minutes) -- Contains obscenity, nudity, sexuality and sexual humor. At Loews Georgetown.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company