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Colour Me Kubrick

dir: Brian W. Cook
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Don’t, whatever you do, mistake this flick for a biography of the great Colossus of the cinema that was Stanley ‘Grumpy Pants’ Kubrick.

No, John Malkovich plays the unbelievable role of a crazy conman who used to tell people he was Stanley Kubrick, despite the fact that he looked nothing like him, didn’t try to sound like him, and didn’t even know what films Kubrick directed.

He is so bad at impersonating him that it becomes more a reflection on the people who get sucked in rather than an example of his skills as a charlatan. It is both their gullibility and their simplemindedness in the face of potential celebrity that renders them ripe for the picking.

Of course, the other element that favoured Alan Conway’s deceptions was the fact that Kubrick himself was a bit of a recluse, and there weren’t many photos of him in common circulation. Looking at the extravagant lengths to which Conway virtually begs to be caught out makes you wonder just how gullible people are out there.

This little film is directed by someone who actually knew and had worked with Kubrick in the past, which means he is eminently unqualified to make a film about a flimflammer he never met. But at least he can ensure Malkovich looks and acts nothing like Kubrick to make the illusion complete.

Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich overacts, underacts, flounces and pounces his way through the film. He uses enough bad accents to make Meryl Streep expire with envy. This is meant to be a broad comedy, so he goes all out as this strange little queen who wanted people to think he was something more than just a travel agent.

The outrageous lies and scenarios he drags people into, even though it’s mostly to scam other people out of pocket change or for drinks, don’t seem to be motivated out of a desire to really screw people over, though his actions certainly aren’t those of a harmless lecher. Nor does he do it to try to scam the real Stanley Kubrick out of any of his bank accounts or anything else. He just seems to enjoy living a strange Life of Riley for whatever kicks or perks he can get out of it.

For such a scammer, he doesn’t seem to be that bright or that diligent at maintaining the facade, but he has, at least, heard and learned the vital life lesson explicit in Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler, as in, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, and especially, know when to run like the hounds of hell are after you.

Even then, some people he seems to scam just for the hell of it. We never really get to peer beneath the veil and see what motivates this crass cretin in his con-artistry; what base need it fulfilled for him to not have to be the mundane Alan Conway and to instead be regarded as the famous director. We never learn what he even thinks of Kubrick or his films. Since this was occurring in the early 1990s, he could have just as easily been pretending to be J.D Salinger or Greta Garbo to these stupid, stupid people.

He scams restaurateurs, barmen, rentboys, toyboys, chemists, heavy metal bands, pop singers, people just sitting in bars and even Frank Rich, the drama critic for the New York Times. Even the Butcher of Broadway is fooled by a third-rate impersonator.

You wouldn’t really call it much of a drama, since most situations are played for laughs, but since it loosely covers many of the more outrageous violations he was responsible for, it’s got to be considered something of a biographical film.

I guess dramatic stuff does happen, since he does ruin many people’s lives. His scams, which were mostly aimed at keeping him in free booze and smokes, often stretched beyond that to trying to maintain a comfort level above what he could afford at expensive restaurants and hotels. Still, the impression we get is that whilst he is callous towards his victims, it is not out of maliciousness.

That’s probably just my opinion. For all I know he probably had the same level of contempt towards everyone he fooled that most scammers, con-artists, thieves and criminals have towards their victims and towards humanity in general. I don’t know, I’m not a psychic. If I were I’d certainly be using my powers in a more productive way than to figure out the complex psychomalogical motivations of a dead sociopath.

Malkovich seems to be having fun with the role, and so he should. Some of the accents he puts on are so over-the-top and so hideous that you wonder how anyone can appear in the same scene with him without ripping their own ears off. It’s rare to see him playing an overtly comical role, though it’s not (unfortunately) rare to see him picking up paycheques in dire flicks because he want to remain in the luxury he has become accustomed to.

There are an abundance of obvious and not so obvious references to Kubrick’s films, not least of which is the use of Strauss’ music from 2001: A Space Odyssey in hilarious juxtaposition of Conway doing his laundry or other mundanities. Plenty of other visual links for the anal retentive Kubrick obsessives, as well as cameos by classic Bond girl Honor Blackman and hack director Ken Russell. Which, you know, is such a big deal.

Still, his presence here should not confuse the unwary with the promise that there is anything of significance or importance going on here. It’s a pleasant enough film, but of little lasting importance, and it’ll be forgotten weeks after it leaves the theatres in the US, where it is inexplicably playing at the moment (opening as it did on 23/3/07). I doubt it’ll win him any more fans in the scheme of things, but it’s not an entirely unpleasant way to spend 86 minutes.

6 times everyone thinks they’d never be so gullible as to fall for a scammer like this, and then you find out they sent money to some guy in Nigeria out of 10.

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“He will redefine the astronaut!” – John Malkovich, playing Alan Conway, impersonating Stanley Kubrick, talking about the movie he intends to make, 3001: A Space Odyssey, which is to star, you guessed it, John Malkovich.

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