“Delirious” represents a return from direct-to-DVD purgatory for Tom DiCillo, still probably best remembered–when he is–for his calling card 1995 film, “Living in Oblivion,” a self-reflexive look behind-the-scenes of an independent film shoot that piggybacked on the mid-’90s vogue for all things “indie” into a modest critical success. More than once since I’ve seen him referred to as a cult filmmaker, though I don’t claim to know where this cult congregates, or why, exactly.
DiCillo’s latest is a sort of fairytale of New York, shot with a measure of off-the-cuff flair by Frank DeMarco, in which homeless aspiring actor Toby (the ever-cherubic Michael Pitt), through hooking up with bottom-feeder paparazzi Les (DiCillo pal and mainstay Steve Buscemi), ascends into the upper echelons of celebrity, eventually sharing a hot tub in a ritzy hotel suite with lusted-after-from-afar creampuff starlet K’Harma (Alison Lohman).
Buscemi, drawn and haggard, is well within his element as isolated crank Les, deeply suspicious of all human entanglements–his Seymour in “Ghost World” is a good frame of reference–but DiCillo’s script retains only the bitchiness, with none of the wit and acerbic snap that made the aforementioned performance indelible. The scenes between Buscemi and Pitt, charismatic actors both, are crippled by uninspired writing (that the running joke consists of Les asking Toby if he’s gay should give some indication of the desperate flailing for laughs), indifferent blocking, and the all-pervasive lack of invention that makes the movie just about walkout-worthy.
DiCillo’s reputation as a director, inasmuch as it exists, rests on his faculty with comedy, but here, as ever, his cornball humor relies on the most crashingly obvious of material (Hollywood Reporter informs me that the film will appeal to a “young, hip audience,” though the satire of mass culture in, say, “Bye Bye Birdie” is more cutting). In ostensibly sending up the world of celebrity, hack maverick DiCillo treats us to scenes of celebs K’Harma and Bruno Beefcake (I tell ya, these pop stars today have some pretty funny names!) being fawned over by handlers who lap up her idea to produce a tie-in perfume (oh, that is so the sort of thing a celebrity might do!).
An inept music video “parody” accompanying K’Harma’s single “Take Your Love and Shove It” only underlines the fact that DiCillo just doesn’t have the feeling for, rancor towards, love of, or even understanding of contemporary pop to make a movie about it–nothing in here goes any deeper than what anybody could glean from an afternoon spent in front of E!. Because it’s a “scrappy” indie, it’ll get the attendance gold star from the usual press who congratulate low-budget filmmakers just for showing up, but really, that sort of approbation isn’t doing anybody any good.
[Nick Pinkerton is a Reverse Shot staff writer and also writes for Stop Smiling.]