John Malkovich knows juicy roles, and, as pathological Stanley Kubrick impersonator Alan Conway, he not only sinks his teeth into the part, he licks, chomps and devours it. Despite looking nothing like the reclusive director and having extremely limited knowledge of his work, Conway managed to pass himself off as the legendary 2001 helmer to dozens of gullible rubes in the late '80s. Spewing an inexhaustible supply of phony showbiz bullshit, Conway wormed his way into the hearts, bedrooms and expense accounts of all sorts of star-struck London suckers, from lowly rent boys to high-flying raconteurs, from grubby metal heads to the staff of a swank resort hotel. People took the bait, so eager for a brush of fame they'd buy any worthless trinket he was selling, even while the shameless charlatan picked their pockets clean.
Never mind that the notoriously camera-shy Kubrick was famously adverse to pressing flesh and a devoted family man not likely to be hanging around boy bars at last call looking for a slab of meat just the merest application of charm and strategic name-dropping got Conway into doors he never could have opened himself.
In the role of Conway, Malkovich is in hog heaven, deploying an impressive arsenal of quirks and tics; changing up his accent with each victim, from a swishy Southern drawl to a bizarre "New Yawk" Yiddish jabber. It's a bold, deliciously over-the-top performance, as he minces his way through scene after scene, sporting a silly collection of campy scarves and with a bottomless vodka 'tini glued to his palm. It's a good thing he's having so much fun in the spotlight, because there isn't a heckuva lot going on around him. Not one of the supporting players is even remotely sympathetic; they're either naive dopes or simply serve as punch-line foils. As amusing and compulsively watchable as the leading man is, he's also a compulsively creepy jerk, and the movie lacks an emotional anchor to keep it dramatically stable.
Screenwriter Anthony Frewin and first-time director Brian Cook were both longtime assistants to the real Mr. Kubrick, and clearly they want to defend their late boss's honor.
They get their shots in, but in ridiculing and demeaning Conway, they miss an opportunity to explore out what makes him tick, and that's the sort of clockwork orange that Kubrick himself might have wanted to unravel.
Opens Friday at the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].