'Rage'

Although name cast almost makes pic bearable, “Rage’s” absurd story about murder on the catwalk reps a tiresome 94 minutes.

The title of Brit helmer Sally Potter’s latest, “Rage,” partly refers to some of its characters’ seething emotions, and partly reps an ironic truncation of the fashion-world phrase “all the rage.” Rage, or at least indignant annoyance, may also be what some auds will feel after having paid to see this lame black comedy-cum-indictment of the fashion industry. Although the name cast almost makes the pic bearable, “Rage’s” absurd story about murder on the catwalk, told through straight-to-camera monologues, reps a tiresome 94 minutes. Novelty of seeing Jude Law in drag and Judi Dench smoking a joint may ensure limited theatrical outings.

The screenplay’s central premise has a black teenager named Michelangelo (never seen or heard) filming an assortment of characters for his blog backstage at a fashion show by supposedly top-name designer Merlin (Simon Abkarian, from Potter’s previous pic, “Yes”).

Despite the fact that, in the real world, it would be hard in such a normally frantic environment for even a Women’s Wear Daily reporter to get more than a five-minute interview, everybody in “Rage” talks at length and spills their guts for Michelangelo’s camera. Interviewees include both the beautiful (Law in drag, seemingly repping not a transvestite but a real woman; real model-turned-thesp Lily Cole as ingenue with the improbable name Lettuce Leaf) and the damned (Eddie Izzard as a moneybags; Judi Dench as an embittered fashion critic; Steve Buscemi as a photographer). Michelangelo also talks to various others who’d normally remain out of the public eye, such as a Hispanic seamstress (Adriana Barraza) and a bodyguard (John Leguizamo).

Over a week of interviews, it’s revealed that two models have died under mysterious circumstances, provoking the arrival of police detective Homer (David Oyelowo), who likes to quote Shakespeare but with a jive-talking Huggy Bear accent. Protestors outside threaten to further disrupt events.

The point seems to be that fashion wrecks lives, if not by actually killing anyone, then by inducing body dysmorphia, exploiting textile workers and turning everyone else in the biz into twisted, shallow idiots.

Writer-helmer Potter (best known for 1992’s “Orlando”) clearly feels some rage about the meretriciousness of the fashion world — its cruel obsessions with youth, beauty and thinness, its vulgar displays of spectacle, and its maltreatment of developing-world workers. Fair enough, but Potter seems to ignore a cardinal rule about satire: If you’re going to skewer something, at least do enough research to make your parody world look somewhat plausible.

Admittedly, realism doesn’t appear to rate high on Potter’s agenda, given that the pic already feels like an Off Off Broadway piece of marginal theater. But what’s the point of creating stereotypes to ridicule when the real thing is so much more inherently preposterous? One fully expects Sacha Baron Cohen’s upcoming “Bruno,” in which Baron Cohen’s gay Austrian fashionista invades real catwalk shows to cause mayhem, will rep a more savage, incisive and amusing indictment of the garment industry.

“Rage’s” only saving grace is its cast, whose credible efforts almost manage to distract from the script’s inherent nonsensicalness. It’s no surprise that pros Dench, Leguizamo and Dianne Wiest (as Merlin’s melancholy company manger) rep particular standouts. The big revelation here, however, is Cole, who shows thesping muscles one wouldn’t have expected she had on the evidence of her previous turn in “St. Trinian’s.” Potter at least deserves credit for directing her and the other actors well.

Given that all the characters talk in front of a bluescreen into which colored backgrounds are later dropped, and camera setups are minimal, there’s not much to say about tech credits apart from the fact that the supersaturated colors of the pic’s HD lensing (shot by the helmer herself) are moderately effective, if rather eyeball-searing over the long haul. The minimalist score, co-written by the pic’s busy helmer and legendary avant-gardist Fred Frith, makes a minor impact.

Rage

U.K. - U.S.

Production

An Adventure (U.K.) production, in association with Vox3 Films (U.S.), made with the support of the U.K. Film Council’s New Cinema Fund, developed with support of the Media Programme of the European Community. (International sales: Six Sales, Madrid.) Produced by Christopher Sheppard, Andrew Fierberg. Executive producers, Bob Heistand, Christina Weiss Lurie. Directed, written by Sally Potter.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Steve Fierberg; editor, Daniel Goddard; music, Fred Frith, Potter; costume designer, Marina Draghici, Es Devlin; sound (Dolby Digital), Jean-Paul Mugel, Vincent Tulli; casting, Irene Lamb, Heidi Levitt. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 7, 2009. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Simon Abkarian, Patrick J. Adams, Riz Ahmed, Bob Balaban, Adriana Barraza, Steve Buscemi, Jakob Cedergren, Lily Cole, Judi Dench, Eddie Izzard, Jude Law, John Leguizamo, David Oyelowo, Dianne Wiest.

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