Review: Star 80

The true story of the murder of Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway), who was discovered as a teen by photographer/wannabe entrepreneur Paul Snider (Eric Roberts), who became her boyfriend, much to the annoyance of her mother (a decidedly unglamorous Carroll Baker). Snider mails nude photos of Stratten to Playboy, which eventually result in her rise to infamy and becoming the Playmate of the Year in 1980. But after a while, things start to sour in their relationship as their individual careers head in different directions and Snider’s enormous jealousy gets out of control. You see, Paul had visions of taking in all the glitz and glamour himself (he’s obsessed with Telly Savalas for some reason), but it doesn’t exactly work out like that. No one is interested in him, all they want is Dorothy. Snider just doesn’t belong in the Playboy world, and he seriously begins to resent it. Roger Rees (in his debut) plays a fictionalised filmmaker based on director Peter Bogdanovich, who becomes involved with Dorothy (as Bogdanovich did in real life), sending Snider off the charts. Cliff Robertson is Playboy founder Hugh Hefner (who sees Snider for the low-rent con artist that he is), David Clennon is a mutual friend of the couple, Josh Mostel plays a private dick, and Keenen Ivory Wayans (also in his screen debut) plays a nightclub comic. Robert Picardo has a small role as an interviewer.

This 1983 account of the murder of Playboy centrefold Dorothy Stratten (at the far too young age of 20) from filmmaker Bob Fosse (“Cabaret”, “All That Jazz”) starts out relatively well. Mariel Hemingway (and her implants) is genuinely affecting as the sweet, hopelessly naive young Stratten, and I liked how she effectively conveyed the transition from virginal small-town girl, to a more mature and sophisticated young woman towards the end. Eric Roberts finds the right occasion to give the same damn mannered, sleazy performance he gives in everything. The pathetic, insecure character is somewhat different at least, even if the actual performance isn’t. Hell, Cliff Robertson even works quite well as Hugh Hefner (Hef’s younger brother Keith actually plays a photographer in the film), and Carroll Baker and David Clennon also do fine work in supporting roles. I especially liked a scene early on where Snider is waiting for Dorothy to get dressed for a date, and he tries his charm out on the rest of the family. Within seconds it seems, everyone save for poor Dorothy, has sized this guy up as bad news. He’s a pathetic sleazebag who sees this pretty young girl as his meal ticket. But what can her mother do?

Unfortunately, after a while the film appears to have no other purpose other than a sleazy, voyeuristic one (it was filmed partly in the apartment where Stratten was actually killed!), and there’s nothing terribly insightful going on. It’s actually rather off-putting (especially in and around the murder), when not predictable and dull. Weird that I am really interested in true crime stories but this film turned me off. Furthermore, Fosse (who wrote the screenplay based on a Village Voice article by Teresa Carpenter) has tried to turn the whole damn thing into “Saturday Night Fever” or “American Gigolo”, with way too many disco club scenes, and too much emphasis on the soundtrack. Yes, I get a kick out of Rod Stewart’s ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ and the Village People’s ‘YMCA’, but after a while it just seemed tacked on to make the film a little more appealing to the disco crowd. In 1983. Yeah...ask Sly Stallone (director of “Stayin’ Alive”) how good an idea that is. If Fosse had stopped dicking around with all the glitzy nonsense, he might’ve had more time to afford the characters, notably Hefner and the Bogdanovich stand-in, who are potentially interesting, but not well-enough developed. He seems to lose focus towards the latter half, before gearing up for the unpleasant (but inevitably so) finale.

At the end of the day, this sleazy film isn’t terribly effective or memorable, outside of the acting. It’s also a bit too sleazy to endure, even given the subject matter.

Rating: C


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