Psycho Beach Party

on August 04, 2000 by Annlee Ellingson
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Billed as a send-up of '50s beach movies and Hitchcockian thrillers, "Psycho Beach Party" does justice to neither. Not witty (nor even that funny), the film likewise isn't particularly mysterious: The McGuffin element is fully intact, but the real criminal comes out of the blue.

   Sixteen-year-old Florence Forest (Lauren Ambrose) despises what's happening to the other girls in her class. Emerging from puberty, they've all gone boy-crazy, abandoning their girlfriends for the affections of the opposite sex. But soon Florence vies for the boys' attention as well, not as booty call but as one of the guys, weaseling her way into the surf culture. The Great Kanaka (Thomas Gibson), the leader of the pack, discovers Florence's split personality and keeps her around in the hopes that her sultry alter ego will make an appearance.

   Meanwh ile, a string of brutal murders is depleting the teen population, and Florence begins to suspect that her blackouts coincide too coincidentally with each homicide.

   Peppered with TV talent, "Psycho Beach Party" wastes it. Brendon, who plays a sarcastic social outcast on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to perfection, is pitched here as a leading man, but the script lacks the charm to make him affection-worthy. Gibson ("Dharma and Greg"), likewise, has lines that rhyme but not all that cleverly, and he hardly fits the bill as a beach bum deserving of his minions' loyalties. Ambrose is at her best when her character's personality splits into an S&M goddess, but her take on Florence, while capturing the perkiness of '50s teen movie stars, is neither groundbreaking nor insightful.

   "Psycho Beach Party" probably hopes to become a sort of cult classic, but the average cultist is smarter than this. Starring Lauren Ambrose, Thomas Gibson, Nicholas Brendon, Charles Busch, Kimberly Davies, Beth Broderick and Matt Keesler. Directed by Robert Lee King. Written by Charles Busch. Produced by Jon Gerrans, Marcus Hu, Victor Syrmis and Virginia Biddle. Comedy. A Strand release. Not yet rated. Running time: 94 min

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