It's hard to imagine any serious film buff taking a pass on "Colour Me Kubrick," a sly, enormously entertaining romp based on the antics of real-life Brit conman Alan Conway who rooked his way around '90s London posing as Stanley Kubrick. But pic is laid out so it's also completely accessible to viewers who know next-to-nothing about the real Kubrick save his profession.
An update was made to this review on Nov. 22, 2005.
It’s hard to imagine any serious film buff taking a pass on “Colour Me Kubrick,” a sly, enormously entertaining romp based on the antics of real-life Brit conman Alan Conway who rooked his way around ’90s London posing as Stanley Kubrick. But pic is laid out so it’s also completely accessible to viewers who know next-to-nothing about the real Kubrick save his profession. Anchored by John Malkovich’s delectable lead perf, awash in accents, mannerisms and constant narcissistic invention, saga looks to earn honest money wherever good scripts full of human foibles are appreciated. French release is Dec. 9.
Venture’s insider flourishes — notably, an opening scene that turns Droog-dom on its ear, plus score’s intelligent borrowings from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “A Clockwork Orange” — will be a constant source of smiles for cinephiles. Pic’s title is embellished with the phrase “A True…ish Story.”
Scripter and director are ideally situated to shape the material. Writer Anthony Frewin first worked with Kubrick on “2001” and handled research on all of the meticulous helmer’s subsequent films. When Conway’s victims began phoning Kubrick’s country manse in Hertfordshire demanding to speak to the real Kubrick, Frewin compiled a massive file on Conway’s fraudulent exploits.
Director Brian Cook, here making his feature debut, worked closely with Kubrick for three decades, notably as assistant director on “Barry Lyndon,” “The Shining” and “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Malkovich’s slightly fey, chameleon-like powers are perfectly utilized in the role of Conway, whose bottomless chutzpah coupled with the genuine Kubrick’s absence from media glare were his greatest assets. Although Conway’s wardrobe here (cooked up by costume designer Victoria Russell) ranges from total schlep to flaming queen — with nothing sober or conventional in between — Conway’s marks, be they musicians, cab drivers or trendy businessmen, are more than willing to overlook a few sartorial eccentricities.
Conway is free to deceive with impunity: When his higher-profile victims realize they’ve been conned, sheer embarrassment prevents them from pressing charges. Then there are the basically powerless musicians and actors who, believing his tales of stolen credit cards, forgotten wallets, etc., fronted “Kubrick” a few hundred quid while jockeying to curry favor with the great man.
Conway’s m.o. includes handing out a posh address and conveniently sitting on the stoop of said residence when his admirers-cum-marks come to call. As a result, marginal and low-life types are forever bellowing, “I demand to see Mr. Kubrick! I know he lives here!” only to be hauled off by the police.
Each of Conway’s scams is a small jewel from the Human Credulity Handbook, including dropping names (“Little Tommy Cruise would like a part and I said to him ‘perhaps’ this morning over breakfast at the Savoy”) and playing into other people’s fantasies whether they’re still struggling (“I need a heavy metal band for my next film”) or already successful (“You should be in Vegas”).
Conway’s homosexuality and fondness for gay haunts translates into many of his marks being gay. But pic confirms that gullibility and wishful thinking are present in every walk of life. Still, two haughty men authoritatively discussing how Kubrick left a “calling card” in “2001,” by making HAL an obviously homosexual computer, is a silly delight.
Narrative is primarily a series of con jobs slung together, with the occasional journalist, policeman or male prostitute assessing Conway’s shameless maneuvers. But fast-paced pic never wears out its welcome.
Conway’s Kubrick-posturing to New York Times theater critic Frank Rich (William Hootkins) and wife Alix (Marisa Berenson) in a London restaurant — “I don’t like what your newspaper wrote about me! I am NOT a recluse” — planted the seeds of his eventual unmasking. But for Conway, even having his cover blown isn’t the fatal blow it would be to less resilient mortals.
Malkovich pulls out all the stops as Conway, affecting wobbly American accents — from Southern twang to Noo Yawk — when impersonating Kubrick to different people. In his bigscreen debut, comedian and TV host Jim Davidson is aces as a charismatic Tom Jones-style belter who falls especially hard for Conway’s act.
Supporting cast members are a joy, with fleeting but particularly fun use made of Honor Blackman, Peter Sallis (the voice of Wallace in the “Wallace and Gromit” toons) and Ken Russell.
Pic’s subtext about the power of celebrity nicely exploits the fact that Conway was able to pass himself off as Kubrick without taking the trouble even to memorize his own alleged filmography or to see the films.