A briskly paced, none-too-deep satire of London’s gallery culture, Duncan Ward’s Boogie Woogie is an art-world Ready To Wear, spreading its piddling insights thin across a web of overlapping characters. Perhaps attempting to emulate the bold colors and geometric play of the Mondrian painting that gives the movie its title, Ward zigzags and smash-cuts, leaving no irony underemphasized. The cast of superficial backstabbers, casual philanderers, and gibberish-spouting phonies has no original characters, but at least a few of the actors attack their roles with a zest that offsets their two-dimensionality.
Danny Huston, himself no stranger to overemphasis, nails down the role of a grandstanding art dealer whose amped-up enthusiasm is no less persuasive for its transparent manipulations; if he has unmotivated opinions, they’re a secret even to himself. Christopher Lee, with a wiry beard and a German accent that make him a dead ringer for Michael Haneke, is at his most imperious as the owner of the titular Mondrian, whose stance that the painting is priceless only makes it worth more. Even Heather Graham’s wafer-thin talents are put to good use as Huston’s disloyal right-hand woman; the blithe disdain with which she turns others to her advantage is sharper for seeming only skin-deep.
Too bad the same can’t be said for Gillian Anderson, whose portrayal of a British society wife is so breathy and cooing, she seems as if she’s perpetually about to faint. Kudos to her, however, for being the rare female in the cast whom Ward fails to maneuver into a glorified upskirt; he even includes a shot in which eager intern Amanda Seyfried does a spread-eagle splat, and the camera is waiting for her at ground level. Likewise, the film’s preponderance of lesbian love scenes, half-heartedly motivated by the ubiquitous camera of a video artist played by Jaime Winstone.
Adapted from Danny Moynihan’s novel with input from Damien Hirst, whose own work prompts far more pressing questions about the line between pop art and pure hype, Boogie Woogie would go down easier were it not so pleased with its own tepid satire. Chances are, even slack-witted viewers would have picked up on Huston’s duplicity without the neon “Trust Me” hanging in his office. Similarly, they might have noticed the casualness with which Winstone dumps sometime rep Alan Cumming without the forehead-slapping tag “This is the art world. This is how it works.” Brushes that broad are best used for painting houses.