This pastiche/homage throws us into an unapologetically cheesy, soft-focus Ross Hunter world of luxe Beverly Hills manses, innumerable glamour gown changes, soupy Muzak and impossibly melodramatic situations. However, instead of Susan Hayward or Lana Turner doing their tortured notions of star acting, Die Mommie Die! has drag artiste Charles Busch in the central role of Angela Arden, washed-up singer, who offs her pesky producer husband Sol (Philip Baker Hall) by poisoning his suppository. Her dim-witted but pretty gay son Lance (Stark Sands) stands by his mom, but her resentful daughter Edith (Natasha Lyonne) would be only too glad to see her fry. Selfish Angela herself only really wants to be with her tennis instructor/stud muffin, Tony Parker (Jason Priestley).

Hilarious '60s schmaltz-fests like Where Love Has Gone, Portrait in Black and Madame X are the low-camp peaks this film strives for mightily. Director Mark Rucker has the right intentions, but unfortunately, not enough skill in terms of comic timing and film pacing to make this confection really soar into parody heaven. For all the carefully art-directed glamour of the production, the camera set-ups and lighting often look amateurish and film school-y. The actors seem rather lost in this uninspired mise-en-sc'ne, and are forced to repeat their individual comic shtick to ever lessening degrees of effectiveness. Busch's script, while funny in spots, isn't as good as his Psycho Beach Party, which, helmed by Robert Lee King, really caught the flavor of what it was satirizing, while adding its own considerable hilarity.

Good sport Priestley embodies the very sort of pretty boy/L.A. layabout which was once Troy Donahue's specialty. The other performances are less successful: Hall blusters charmlessly in an overwrought manner which should have been toned down, while talented actresses Lyonne and Frances Conroy (as a conniving maid) don't really get to show what they can do. As for the star him/herself, one is reminded of what Sunset Boulevard's Joe Gillis said to the rapacious Norma Desmond: "After all, the audience doesn't want to see you in every scene!" Less would decidedly have been more here. Busch is an undeniable New York theatre treasure, but too many lush close-ups, grande-dame entrances and exits, and that distinctively bizarre Susan Hayward fruity diction rather exhaust themselves. He is hilarious, however, when he mournfully takes to the piano during Sol's funeral and, before you know it, is regaling 'em with that reliable old chestnut, "Bill Bailey."

--David Noh