on May 03, 1996 by Ray Greene
"Homage" is a textbook example of a great movie trying to claw its way out from under a bad one. In the already too-often emulated mixed-media tradition of Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers," "Homage" tells the story of the death of a substance-abusing TV star (indie fixture Sheryl Lee) at the hands of a star-obsessed genius-mathematician (Frank Whaley).
   At times, "Homage" seems structurally reminiscent of both "Sunset Boulevard" and "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" Like those morbid milestones, "Homage" uses a domestic drama as a comment on celebrity cults of personality, offering a scabrous backstage glimpse of how the other half lives. But even such deliciously florid stylists as Billy Wilder and Robert Aldrich come across as unassuming craftsmen when set beside first-time director Ross Kagan Marks, who weds Godzilla-level sound effects and a consciously David Lynch-like fixation with odd, slow motion close-ups and asymmetrical detail onto a script (by Mark Medoff from his play) which still somehow manages to announce its theatre-bound roots every five minutes or so. The dialogue, while occasionally stimulating, suffers from the same flaw that haunted Roman Polanski's recent play-into-film exercise "Death and the Maiden": Speeches tend toward an overripe quality that sounds stilted and bereft without that orator's accessory that is the proscenium arch. More's the pity that Marks didn't have a bit more trust in his human materials because, when he isn't indulging in "look-at-me!" montage and post-production stunts, it turns out Marks is a fine director of actors. All three of his central performances are exceptional, especially Blythe Danner as the mother who accidentally brings a hyper-intellectual Angel of Death into her troubled girl's life. Danner's perfectly modulated turn brings a depth and complexity to "Homage" that the rest of the proceedings only guess at, raising a muddled exercise to the level of real artistry every time she raises her sad eyes or opens her mouth. If any American actress can be said to be ready to take on the mantle of the late great Jessica Tandy, Danner is the one. Here's hoping the many studio types who undoubtedly saw "Homage" at Sundance were able to see through all that deadening cinematic "style" to find the shimmering jewel of a performance that is the film's warmly beating heart. Starring Blythe Danner, Frank Whaley and Sheryl Lee. Directed by Ross Kagan Marks. Written by Mark Medoff. Produced by Mark Medoff and Elan Sassoon. An Arrow release. Drama. Running time: 97 min.
Tags: Starring Blythe Danner, Frank Whaley, Sheryl Lee, Directed by Ross Kagan Marks. Written by Mark Medoff, Produced by Mark Medoff, Elan Sassoon, Arrow, Drama

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