"Siesta," the first feature directed by Mary Lambert, is so preposterously, aggressively half-baked that it practically dares you to march out of the theater.
Starring Ellen Barkin, who appears in nearly every frame, the movie is about the final few days in the life of a world-famous sky-diving daredevil named Claire. Told in scrambled flashbacks after Claire's death, it takes place in a kind of timeless purgatory in which the character, wearing a scanty, bright red dress, must run around in a panic, trying to figure out what's happened to her.
Ultimately, what's happened to her is of very little consequence, and comes as much more of a surprise to her than it does to us. Lambert has said that the film is about the "necessity for accepting change," and, yeah, since the main character is dead, I'd say she had some adjusting to do.
The movie was adapted by Patricia Louisianna Knop, who wrote the screenplay for "9 1/2 Weeks," from a novel by Patrice Chaplin. The result might be dismissed as an art bauble if we weren't forced to endure the pain of watching an actress as gifted as Barkin flail around in the middle of it. And she's not alone either. The movie is like some tony theme party with actors from all over -- Jodie Foster, Isabella Rossellini, Julian Sands, Martin Sheen, Grace Jones, Gabriel Byrne -- dropping by to play dress-up. (It's a toss-up as to who gets the worst of it, though Sands and Byrne probably have the most atrocious lines.)
Lambert has done some fairly high-profile work in rock video -- she's perhaps best known for the "Material Girl" video she directed for Madonna -- but she gives no indication here that she's ever even seen a movie, much less knows how to direct one. The only thing she gets points for is ambition: No other movie this year has wanted so to take on the big issues of love and death and sex and art -- and failed as spectacularly. Yet you can't even applaud the aspirations here, as you might with another self-consciously stylized project. Lambert hasn't even chosen interesting ways to fail.
Siesta, at the Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Avenue, is rated R and contains some nudity and adult situations.