Psycho Beach Party

2000, Movie, NR, 95 mins


Part loving homage, part camp send-up, this knowing ode to beach party pictures and cheesy monster movies has a great look, but its broad laughs at the expense of '50s and '60s cultural naivete aren't really all that clever. Sweet 16 and never been kissed, perky tomboy Florence Forest (Lauren Ambrose) isn't very interested in boys, but she's dead keen on becoming a surfer — if only she can find someone to teach her. Her intellectual friend Berdine (Danni Wheeler) would rather spend her time parsing the subtext of drive-in movies like The Pizza Waitress with Three Heads, while the popular girls, such as curvy Marvel Ann (Amy Adams), are busy striking poses in their new bikinis. Mocked by the callow surfer boys, Florence appeals to senior surf guru Kanaka (Thomas Gibson); he's equally cool to her entreaties until he gets a glimpse of her alternate personality, sultry dominatrix Ann Bowman. Hoping to get better acquainted with Ann, he gives Florence a catchy nickname, "Chicklet," and teaches her to ride the waves. Meanwhile, the local teens are being terrorized by a psychopathic killer, and starchy lady cop Monica Stark (Charles Busch, also the screenwriter) is hot on the job. Could it be one of Chicklet's alter egos, or is there another head case in town? Adapted from Busch's cult play, which was originally performed off-Broadway with Busch in the role of Chicklet, this unsubtle parody probably worked better on stage; its candy-colored artifice looks more than a little strained on film, and the actors are all trying really hard to be camp. The striking exception is Australian actress Kimberley Davies; her relatively understated turn as breathy, B-movie starlet Bettina Barnes is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale concoction. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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