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Friday, October 31, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Story line tuckers out, but actors ham on in 'Die Mommie Die!'

Seattle Times movie critic

Greek tragedy meets high camp in this melodrama-with-a-twist, and the result — well, if Clytemnestra had had access to a suppository dipped in rat poison, things might have veered off course in "The Oresteia" too.

Charles Busch's play "Die! Mommy! Die!," on which the mysteriously renamed movie is based, is inspired by the classic drama, but you needn't worry if your ancient Greek is ancient history. Mark Rucker's film is far more closely intertwined with midcentury Hollywood melodrama. It's enjoyable yet predictable; even as it strives for zaniness, it never quite surprises.

Busch, swathed in scarves, plays former pop diva Angela Arden, a throaty-voiced matron given to such statements as "One feels the memory lingering, like smog over the canyon," as if she's composing a bad noir novel. Angela lives with her movie-producer husband (Philip Baker Hall, with a voice that could crack granite) and children (Natasha Lyonne, Stark Sands), and is in the throes of a passionate affair with the tennis pro (Jason Priestley), so her life is filled with draaaama, particularly after a murder plot goes horribly wrong.

Movie review


**½
"Die Mommie Die!," with Charles Busch, Frances Conroy, Philip Baker Hall, Natasha Lyonne, Jason Priestley. Directed by Mark Rucker, from a screenplay by Busch, based on a stage play by Busch. 90 minutes. Rated R for strong sexual content, language and a drug scene. Uptown.
The cast is clearly having a swell time, tossing off their lines as if aiming for the second balcony. Lyonne, near bursting out of her empire-waisted dresses, saucily swishes about — she's a little more than kin to her adored father. Frances Conroy (of "Six Feet Under") is the quiet maid with a secret, putting a rich spin on the line "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." Priestley, reveling in his own Old Hollywood handsomeness, plays the seducer with relish.

Funny stuff, but these energetic performances have to battle a story that gets too tired too quickly. Rucker has filled his film with funny sight gags (at one point, the Y shape of a man's crotch fades into the Y shape of a martini glass) and a slightly graying Technicolor lushness, as if it's been sitting on the shelf for a while. Never mind about all those mysterious goings-on in the potting shed; the reason to watch "Die Mommie Die!" isn't for its story, but the zing in its actors' eyes.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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