Movie Review: Portrait of Anna Nicole Smith, “Addicted to Fame”

2starsAnna Nicole Smith was “famous for being famous,” or more to the point, “infamous for being famous.” A volutuous Playboy Playmate and Houston stripper who married an old man for his millions, showcased her vapidity on reality TV and never missed a red carpet or any other chance to shake her money maker for the paparazzi, she never achieved anything and didn’t live long enough to celebrate her 40th birthday. But the public couldn’t get enough of this blonde template for the Kardashians to come.

If you’re a direct-to-video movie maker longing for his shot at the big time, what could be better than landing this attention-magnet for the lead in your new movie? That’s the Devil’s bargain that writer-director David Giancola made when he landed Smith for his 2006 “Charlie’s Angels Meets Earth Girls Are Easy” parody, “Illegal Aliens.” He had publicity, more than he could have dreamed. The Vermont filmmaker, who’d used people like Bruce Campbell and a very young Jesse Eisenberg in earlier movies, had a movie Hollywood had at least had heard of and might be interested in distributing. To theaters, even.

But it was, as you might guess, a fiasco — a diva star who was plainly out of it all the way through the his rushed-shoot, an “actress” who couldn’t act, even if she had been sober and a movie that wouldn’t have warranted any attention at all if she hadn’t agreed to take the leading role.

And that was before tragedy overtook Giancola’s film and his shot at the big time.

Giancola was clever enough to hedge his bets, having videographers crawling over his production all during the shoot, getting all this candid behind the scenes footage that he might be able to use if the movie he’d planned doesn’t work out. And that “doesn’t work out” is very much up in the air all through the fifteen day shoot. Smith feigns illness, is habitually late, cannot remember her lines, looks stoned and acts stupid every second she was on set.

Giancola, looking back, is blunt to the point of cruel in his regard for Smith, of whom, he said at the time, was “like working with a two year-old, or three year-old.” But it’s hard to feel sorry for him. He made this deal and cannot believe it’s blowing up in his face.

The documentary breaks between scenes with vapid little inter-titles, showbiz truisms and homilies “There are good days and there are bad days,” it quotes Lawrence Welk as saying. “This is one of them.”

Tempers flare as director, screenwriter, the star and the star’s entourage wrestle for control of the script, or ry to figure out ways to film around Smith and her parasitic lawyer-beau, Howard K. Stern.

Then, just as you think the end is in sight, the filmmakers (John James of “Dynasty” is his producer) have their finished farce in the can, tragedy strikes and “Addicted to Fame” takes us inside the whirlwind of cable news coverage that surrounded the death of Smith’s son, then her own untimely demise. Giancola is frank enough to admit he loved the attention, stunned enough to realize that no movie is worth this. As low-grade as his movies had always been, this sort of exposure was beneath even him.

“Addicted to Fame” isn’t an expose and doesn’t break a lot of new ground in “celebrity can kill you” cautionary tale territory. But, like that earlier film-blows-up-on-filmmaker disaster “Overnight,” it should be required viewing in college film classes. The pitfalls of not knowing the difference between “notoriety” and “fame” were never clearer.

MPAA Rating: unrated, with profanity and cleavage.

Cast: Anna Nicole Smith, David Giancola, John James, Lenise Soren, Chyna, Gladise Jimenez

Credits: Written and directed by David Giancola, based on the hfilming of “Illegal Aliens.”  An Arthouse Roadshow release.

Running time: 1:29

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