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Death be not proud: Lifetime's Anna Nicole movie

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New Anna Nicole movie is not hesitant about displaying its assets. Lifetime photos

Voyeuristic movies of this sort usually have a bountiful assortment of scenes fit for a Mommie Dearest “Best of Show” competition.

Lifetime’s Anna Nicole, premiering Saturday, June 29th at 7 p.m. (central), does not shrink from this task. Let us count just a few of the ways:

***In opening narration accompanying an overhead shot of her corpse, the title character (played by Agnes Bruckner) notes that “I’ll be buried as international celebrity and balls to the wall party girl, Anna Nicole Smith. But I was born Vicky Lynn Hogan.”

***Oscar-winner Martin Landau, as octogenarian sugar daddy J. Howard Marshall, drops his jaw into an awe-struck drool-dispenser upon first seeing his future bride at a Houston strip club.

***Making a last-ditch bid for a verbal promise to leave her lots of money, Anna Nicole thrusts her breasts near “Paw Paw’s” face on his deathbed. But the old man is too far gone. “Is that you, mother?” he wonders. “Where you been, mother?”

***In an arguably more lucid moment, J. Howard gruffly dismisses the concerns of his family fortune-protecting son, E. Pierce Marshall (Cary Elwes). “Now get the hell outta here,” the old man commands. “You’re stinkin’ up my seafood.”

***Getting super-blasted while pregnant with her second child, Anna Nicole crawls on hands and knees across a bar toward a glass of red wine.

***Son Danny, fed up with Anna Nicole’s constant posing, boozing and pill-popping, musters the gumption to blurt, “You suck at bein’ a momma, momma!”

That last scene would be my grand prize winner in a film that at least can’t be accused of being tame, boring -- or for that matter, completely sucking. Landau lightly sprinkles his performance with nuance. Elwes is solid throughout as E. Pierce (called “E. Prick” by Anna Nicole and misspelled “Pearce” in Lifetime press materials). And Virginia Madsen shows how to really blow at bein’ a momma during her vivid recurring scenes as Virgie Arthur.

Then there’s former soap star ingenue Bruckner in the title role. Whether coaxing a surgeon into giving her bowling ball-sized breasts or reflexing preening at the click of a shutter, Bruckner thrusts everything she has into this role under the direction of Mary Harron, whose credits include American Psycho and I Shot Andy Warhol.

The end result isn’t a very good biopic and certainly not a noble one. But there’s no business like show business, and this was bound to be made by someone. In fact it’s a minor miracle it took this long. Close to six-and-a-half-years have passed since Anna Nicole’s Feb. 8, 2007 death of a drug overdose. When Liberace died in 1987, dueling movies on ABC and CBS aired in the following year.

Anna Nicole portrays its subject as both victim and victimizer, with ill-fated son Danny (played by three different actors) the principal truth-teller.

“Do you realize that you and a camera are like a moth and a flame?” he also informs her. But to no avail.

In its second half, the film includes a portrayal of Howard K. Stern, depicted for the most part as Anna Nicole’s latter day enabler and the architect of her much-ridiculed 2002 “reality” series for the E! cable network. Adam Goldberg capably navigates the Stern role in a film that includes brief real-life TV clips of Larry King (with dark hair) and Matt Lauer (with a full head of hair).

As the closing credits show, Anna Nicole also deploys a “David Letterman sound-alike” (named Chris Cox) for portions of a “Top Ten List” recitation of “Anna Nicole Dating Tips.”

Letterman likely won’t be at all amused by this. And Bruckner’s climactic Anna Nicole narrative also includes him among the many people she could blame for her downfall. Even so, the “mirror’s where I gotta begin,” she concedes.

None of J. Howard Marshall’s estate ever came directly her way, thanks to the vigilance of the likewise deceased E. Pierce. And now, with this movie, others are making money off her name while Anna Nicole’s six-year-old daughter, Dannielynn, reportedly is in line for a multi-million dollar payout from the Marshall estate.

Anna Nicole was always one to say “More, more,” though. So it’s hard to imagine her objecting to this movie in the least. Just spell the name right, show her at the top of her game and try to believe her just a little when she’s shown telling E. Pierce, “My feelings for your father are as real as rain.”


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