Movie Review: “I’m an Electric Lampshade” drowns in delusions, in front of and behind the camera

A 60 year-old accountant from New York (state) wants to be a pop star, some sort of conceptual/multi-media pop performer of the Michael Jackson/Grace Jones/Talking Heads in “Stop Making Sense” mold.

So he blows a wad of cash on a music video “transformation” that he’ll introduce at his retirement party. Backup dancers, professional recording/singing to a track, the works.

And then he gets a tip about a Filipino drag queen academy and leaves behind his mentally troubled wife to pursue his bliss and some sort of fantasy dream concert, with perhaps the fame that could be attendant to that.

An ineffectual, irritating blend of documentary and dully-scripted “trippy,” “I’m an Electric Lampshade” is camp without the fun, music video fever-dream nonsensical and incoherent in ways that limit even its camp entertainment value.

Doug McCorkle is an accountant/comptroller facing retirement with a big dream. He’s going to shave off the rest of his hair, train and take voice and dance lessons and do a “Stop Making Sense” concert extravaganza of semi-ironic of EMD synth-pop of his own creation.

That’s what sends him away from wife Regina and to Sin Andre’s Finishing School for Performers. It’s somewhere in the Philippines. He joins with assorted “real people” who are aspiring actors (ugh), singers or drag queens.

Fandango (Isra-Jeron Ysmae) is a transgender sweat shop worker with dreams of undefined showbiz glory and leaves house and family for the Big City (Manilla? Maybe. Maybe not).

Writer-director John Clayton Doyle keeps the “story” needlessly vague about what people’s actual goals are, even as they address the “fantasy” that has them there in the first place.

Cesar Valentino vamps it up as Sin Andre, their teacher in “Dramatics” and “Professional Realness,” how to move, stage presence, etc. We don’t see a “transformation in progress” as most of the actual “instruction” is left unseen.

Fandango gives Doug a tab of acid, advising him to “find yourself inside, first.” That’s what passes for “profound” here. Doug winds up in fishnets and a bustier, because of course he does.

But that’s just his “break through” before his big finish, his “Stop Making Sense” quasi tribute show (Filmed/staged in Mexico, maybe?).

So what we’ve got here is a reasonably well-off childless retiree blowing through cash for an elaborate rock and roll fantasy camp, with EMD and a multi-media stage show the goal rather than shredding alongside your favorite guitar god or legendary lead singer.

As a concept, that’s thin. And all the dance and cheesy, amateurish videos (a Filipino TV commercial that looks like a short student film with no punchline), stage effects etc. can’t hide that.

The title comes from the song Doug improvises to a track. By the end of the film, he’s at least fumbling for more interesting and coherent lyrics.

Doug has a colorless, back-row of a smalltown church choir baritone. Think Right Said Fred that isn’t “Too sexy for” anything.

Doug has the stage presence to match. His dancing is stiff and mechanical, even after he gets down the choreography and the costume changes. Are we meant to celebrate that he got good enough to not fool anybody?

It’s like the difference between Steve Carell’s delusional dolt in “The Office,” and Ed Helms’ musically-adept flipside of the same clueless coin. Wanting to perform isn’t the same thing as having a talent for it.

Gina back home has taken on some drag queen (Darnell Bernard) presence who could be her conscience as she calls and calls Doug, wondering why he won’t come home.

What do we make of all this, avoiding the easy (“I don’t get it.'”) way out?

The premise may have had promise, but not much. Even the “rich old white guy’s indulgence” factor is left unexplored.

The visuals are all over the place — drably-choreographed bits and pieces, street scenes and streetwalking scenes — all of it looking seriously DIY, and not in a fun way.

Dramatically, the entire enterprise is a non-starter. It’s colorful, but if the lead is this charisma-impaired and the filmmaker fictionalizing all this abandons reality the moment Doug leaves his office, where do we plant our feet as a vantage point? With Doug? With Gina? With Fandango (the more interesting story)?

A movie that leaves you this unmoored (Would it kill a director to tell is where we ARE? Ever?) is that much harder to get something — anything — out of.

I see this got some film festival attention and a few timid endorsement reviews.

Sorry kids. The emperor? He hath no clothes.

Rating: unrated, drug abuse, near nudity, profanity

Cast: Doug McCorkle, Regina McCorkle, Cesar Valentino, Isra-Jeron Ysmae, Darnell Bernard

Credits: Scripted and directed by John Clayton Doyle. A Holy Moly release

Running time:

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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