Before Syfy channel perfected the production — or more accurately — the promotion of so-bad-it’s-good movies, Lifetime was synonymous with satisfying guilty pleasures. The net’s latest original, a behind the chiffon look at the Versace fashion dynasty titled “House of Versace,” is a gilded guilt fest certain to leave viewers with 24-karat regret. Even top-notch stars appearing as impeccable real-life knock-offs can’t help the flimsy script, which wears as badly as a cheap polyester blend. It’s the kind of melodramatic TV movie that has one pining for more wire hangers.
Versace fashion was once known almost exclusively for Gianni (Enrico Colantoni) – flamboyant creator of the safety-pin dress and self-proclaimed inventor of the supermodel. The fashion empire of the ’80s and early’ 90s, however, was a family business, run financially by brother Santo (Colm Feore), creatively by Gianni and inspirationally by Donatella (Gina Gershon). They learned their trade from their seamstress mother growing up in Calabria, Italy. As the joke goes, Calabrians are like Sicilians, only with a bad attitude. If the family reality TV boom had only occurred earlier, this triumvirate would have knocked the Kardashians off the map.
At times close knit, the siblings are often at odds over money and power. Gianni seems both enamored and jealous of Donatella’s public-relations skills, while Santo frets over every dollar and diamond. After Gianni’s murder in 1997, the burden of carrying on the family name falls to Donatella. Although she has natural gifts for the business, Donatella lacks the self-confidence to listen to her instincts. Gianni’s will, which snubs Donatella in favor of her daughter Allegra, adds to her rapidly escalating insecurity.
Fashion is fickle, and any loyalty to the family after Gianni’s death rapidly dries up along with buyers and distributors. Donatella takes on the business, seemingly surviving on cocaine and cappuccinos at the expense of her marriage and children. Trying to recreate Gianni-like apparel nearly bankrupts the company, and Donatella is forced into rehab by her family.
Based on Deborah Ball’s “House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder, and Survival,” director Sara Sugarman presents less a tale of love and redemption than a colorful how- to on losing $97 million in a few short years. Donatella skates through rehab as an afterthought, resulting in a comeback story lacking any emotional investment.
The average sandal-wearing, yoga pants-loving viewer may not feel the needed empathy for someone entering rehab with a full set of Louis Vuitton luggage. (Aesthetically opposed to flat shoes, Donatella claims giving up heels was harder than cocaine.) Rama Stagner’s script also skips other important dramatic facts, such as Gianni’s cancer diagnosis and daughter Allegra’s subsequent anorexia.
Gershon is nearly unrecognizable as Donatella, portraying the fashion icon before her cartoonish fish lipped, cat-eyed post-surgery strangeness. Her style and personal appetites are so outrageous as to make for campy fun, but that dampens the underpinnings of what could have been an intriguing story.
Supporting perfs are burdened with laughable dialogue such as, “I am the sun and you are the moon. Your job is to reflect my glow.” Meanwhile, the Italian accents, especially by Feore and Raquel Welch, vacillate between Father Guido Sarducci and Russian mobster.
Seemingly as a reality check, Lifetime airs the documentary ”Versace: Beyond the Headlines,” immediately after the premiere.