Les Galantine (Steve Buscemi) is the lowest of the low—i.e., a paparazzo forever scrambling for the perfect shot of some reluctant celebrity. While on the dirty job one day, he hooks up with homeless aspiring actor Toby (Michael Pitt), who becomes his assistant. Les teaches the youngster the tawdry ropes of his trade, which consist of making stars’ private lives utter hell and stealing extra goodie bags from press parties. Although he treats Toby as basically an idiot, the kid actually goes much further in pursuit of his dreams, managing to turn his connection with an agent (toothsome Gina Gershon) into (highly unconvincing) big-time movie stardom. Disgruntled Les seethes with jealousy that this ungrateful brat took what he gave him and ran, leaving him, again, with his face desperately pressed up against the window of stardom.

Delirious is obviously director Tom DiCillo’s statement about the nature of celebrity and the losers who desperately crave it, but there’s nothing particularly fresh or exciting here. The overall, overstressed tone is one of cynical whimsy meant to be incisively hard-hitting, but more often coming off as merely tiresome and abrasive. In hiring Buscemi and Pitt, DiCillo has followed that old show-biz adage and let his casting do most of the work, but, unfortunately, they are both too typecast. Buscemi works his psychotic Don Knotts shtick, with irritated facial contortions and grating voice, to a fare-thee-well, making me feel I could gladly never see this actor again. Pitt does his sweetly logy, addled angel routine—a sexily pliant love object for any soul rapacious enough to take total advantage of him. Their odd-couple relationship recalls Midnight Cowboy without the novelty, as well as Anna, with its All About Eve careerist machinations and ambitious envy.

The rest of the cast tries to keep pace with the frenetic tone set by Buscemi’s obnoxious performance, impersonating various high-pressure show-biz types in DiCillo’s totally artificial, ultra-tacky world. Alison Lohman plays a bewilderingly big star called Kh’arma (the name says it all about the aesthetic reach of this project), who has a swooning star-crossed meltdown every time she and Toby exchange random glances. Of course they end up together, and it should be said that this dippy twosome deserve one another in a truly who-cares happy ending.