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Addicted to Fame

An entertaining if ultimately depressing record of serial disasters that would be most at home on one of the tabloid-style TV nets where its subject's star, Anna Nicole Smith, shone most regularly and brightly.

With:
With: John James, David Giancola, Anna Nicole Smith, Joanie "Chyna" Laurer, Howard K. Stern, Daniel Wayne Smith, Mary Beth French, Zorinah Juan, Ben Coello.

While there have been plenty of celebrity sexpot train wrecks, the case of Anna Nicole Smith remains memorable for its extremes of haplessness, greed, scandal and self-destruction. Bringing all that magic back is “Addicted to Fame,” David Giancola’s documentary about the ill-fated indie comedy he made that turned out to be Smith’s final acting vehicle. Part making-of, part unmaking-of, it’s an entertaining if ultimately depressing record of serial disasters that would be most at home on one of the tabloid-style TV nets where its subject’s star shone most regularly and brightly.

Giancola introduces himself as a lifelong movie nut who decided he’d rather be a big fish in a small pond, directing and/or producing his own low-budget, direct-to-DVD genre exercises at home in Vermont. Thus ensued a run of cheap action knockoffs starring the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus, Burt “Robin” Ward and Morgan Fairchild, their titles (“Peril,” “Moving Targets,” “Pressure Point”) as generic as their plots.

Well aware that he was hardly making art, Giancola decided to send up action cinema in general with “Illegal Aliens,” a spoof in which a trio of butt-kicking babes, a la “Charlie’s Angels” (albeit from another planet) arrive to protect humanity from the forces of evil. He figured that since Smith, the already infamous Playmate turned octengenarian-billionaire’s widow turned reality-TV star, had been hilarious, however inadvertently, in prior B-pic roles (“To the Limit,” “Skyscraper”), she could hardly help but add levity to his film, while doubtlessly upping its public profile.

Playboy vet and WWF wrestler Chyna agreed to co-star (under her real name, Joanie Laurer). Lesser-known thesp Gladys Jimenez signed on as the third “angel,” not reading the script until en route to the set, to her considerable regret.

Giancola and producing partner/former “Dynasty” hunk John James had steeled themselves for trouble, but were still unprepared for the extent of woe brought by Smith and her entourage. As preserved in ample behind-the-scenes footage, the lady from Texas could hardly articulate a cogent thought, let alone recite scripted dialogue. (“I don’t know how to read and stuff like that,” she mutters at one juncture.) Tardiness turned to complete absences; crew applause that erupted following her last take wasn’t honorary.

Soon afterward, Smith’s battle for her late husband’s estate reached the Supreme Court. The massive publicity briefly rubbed off on “Aliens,” and made the admittedly cheesy, low-brow film seem a hot commodity. But when her son Daniel, then Anna Nicole herself died of drug overdoses, the film’s existence was deemed in exploitative bad taste; it eventually died a quiet home-release death. The experience was terminal in other ways — the docu’s written codas reveal that most principal participants subsequently dropped out of the film biz.

“Addicted” (previously known by the more savory title of “Craptastic!”) is most fun early on, with mind-boggling glimpses of the extremely mind-boggled star struggling to act or even speak. Later, when she is seen in TV interviews (which clearly must have been heavily edited to find even a couple of usable, coherent statements), the amusement wears thinner, particularly since it’s obvious from clips that “Aliens” hardly deserved wider exposure.

Assembly is adequate.

Popular on Variety

Addicted to Fame

Production: An Abramorama presentation in association with Brainstorm Media of an Arthouse Roadshow Pictures production in association with Edgewood Studios. Produced by Sy Devol. Executive producers, Richard Abramowitz, Keith Pickard. Directed, written by David Giancola.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Ben Coello, Kevin Rapf; editor, Giancola; music, Arial Sounds; music supervisor, Richard Barone; sound, Dan Mazur; Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Documentaries), Aug. 28, 2012. Running time: 89 MIN.

Cast: With: John James, David Giancola, Anna Nicole Smith, Joanie "Chyna" Laurer, Howard K. Stern, Daniel Wayne Smith, Mary Beth French, Zorinah Juan, Ben Coello.

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