On DVD: Yes, Being Michael Madsen Exists. (And No, It Shouldn't)

being_michael_madsen_225.jpgThe loathed-and-beloved pilot fish of celebrity culture, paparazzi are front of brain lately: Entourage star Adrian Grenier's doc Teenage Paparazzi is coming to cable, and the film about Ron "Brando Broke My Jaw" Galella, Smash His Camera, hits DVD next month. But no film might pin down the dynamic like Being Michael Madsen, which is close to being a paparazzo in film form. Which is to say it's annoying, thoughtless, transparently full of crap and morally confused.

The title should be a hint -- the flauntingly fake world in which Michael Mongillo's film "happens" posits Madsen as a megastar haunted by tabloid rumors and gnat-like photographers, an idea that by itself slides the film into abject self-mockery. One of many talking heads (including both David Carradine and Daryl Hannah, invoking a Kill Bill interface that's just as ridiculous as Tarantino's meta-martial arts landscape), Madsen's sister Virginia gives the film's only convincing performance, barely able to mask her loathing for her brother.

Otherwise, as the narrative goes, Madsen is accused by a wild-eyed photog of murdering a missing starlet, and so he decides to get revenge -- by hiring a three-man documentary team (not the ones making the movie, which is supposed to be Madsen's) to turn the tables and pester the paparazzo night and day. Eventually there's a crime, a trial, a spike in tabloid celebrity for everyone -- including the three doc-makers! -- and a dissipating sense that the movie doesn't even remember what it wanted to say about celebrity-hood and pop media.

If it had anything on its mind at all, beyond The Uncertainty Principle (by watching something, you change it), and, arguably, the uncertainty that Being Michael Madsen is an excruciating shambles or an "excruciating shambles." It's very possible that it's clumsy awfulness is deliberate -- the actors playing the technicians and agents interviewed are all obviously "acting" and are all outrageously unconvincing. Even the courtroom sketches are amateurish and unreal. The characters mock documentaries, including the one they're in; as part of its "hyperreality," the film chronicles its own spectacular success, impossibly.

Which, in a way, is a paparazzi sensibility, through and through: Fame is its own virtual, self-fulfilling phenomenon, perpetuated by image and absurd priorities. To say there's no there there is an understatement -- there's nothing but straining vanity and empty skulls, a failure to make a self-referential comedy-doc about the banality of its own culture. What could be more tabloid? And why Madsen, you ask? Probably because they couldn't get Mickey Rourke to do it.