[Screen It]

(2001) (Mariah Carey, Max Beesley) (PG-13)

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Drama: A young woman and those in her life must deal with the consequences of her becoming a successful singer in the early 1980s.
It's the early '80s in New York City and Billie Frank (MARIAH CAREY) is a young woman trying to break onto the music scene. Having survived a rough childhood where her alcoholic, blues singing mother, Lillian (VALARIE PETTIFORD), finally had to put her in an orphanage, Billie now sings backup, along with her two best friends, Louise (DA BRAT) and Roxanne (TIA TEXADA), for an untalented singer managed by Timothy Walker (TERRENCE HOWARD).

When they arrive in a club where local deejay Julian "Dice" Black (MAX BEESLEY) spins the tunes, he immediately notes Billie's vocal talent and agrees to purchase her contract from Timothy. Soon, Dice and Billie not only have a contract with a major recording label, but also a number one song and a budding romantic relationship between them.

Yet, as Billie progressively becomes a bigger star, Dice finds himself being pushed into the background. From that point on, the two lovers try to cope with that, her growing fame, and the results that it has on her and those in her life.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Documentaries aside, when it comes to movies about musicians, there are generally three categories. Some films, such as "What's Love Got to Do With It?" "The Buddy Holly Story" and "Sweet Dreams," are dramatic re-creations of a given musician/singer's life, always with someone else impersonating them on stage and in their personal matters.

Then there are movies that feature fictitious musicians or bands - such as "The Commitments" and "Rock Star" - that attempt to make them and their music seem as authentic as possible. Finally, there are films that combine elements from those two, where real life musical artists play fictitious characters, but perform their own music and songs in the film and on the soundtrack.

By doing so, such artists not only continue their recording careers, but they also make relatively safe steps into the world of acting (by not having to stretch their fledgling acting wings too far). On such example is "Purple Rain" where Prince played The Kid, a semi-successful rock/funk star who looked, acted and performed in a rather similar mode to Prince Rogers Nelson.

Such appearances usually give stars a "too big for their britches" rap where people see them as thinking they can do anything and everything they want. While that's often true, sometimes that comes out of wanting to grow or at least do something different - such as Michael Jordan wanting to play baseball rather than basketball a few years back - which we can respect. In addition, since fame is fleeting at best, one can't entirely criticize someone for attempting to grab all the gusto while they can.

Other times, however, such "stretching" stems from a bloated and over-inflated ego where stars don't listen to their friends, family or advisors regarding what appears to be a poor career move, or is allowed since everyone around them is afraid to tell them so. History - within and outside the entertainment industry - is littered with such vocational switches, many of which often result in blazing disaster, especially when non-actors end up proving why they shouldn't give up their day jobs.

"Glitter" is one of those films and Mariah Carey, alas, has turned out to be one of those performers. Starring the Grammy winning pop star in her debut leading role (after briefly appearing in 1999's "The Bachelor"), the film presents the story of a young woman who overcomes the odds and a rough early family life to pursue her dreams of becoming a singer. While doing so, her relationship with her friends and new boyfriend-cum-manager, begins to suffer.

Written by screenwriter Kate Lanier ("The Mod Squad," "What's Love Got to Do With It?") and helmed by actor turned director Vondie Curtis Hall ("Gridlock'd") the film isn't exactly original (can anyone say "A Star is Born" meets "Purple Rain") and it isn't very good.

Filled with some amateurish acting, atrocious dialogue and ham-fisted direction, the film is a mess pretty much from the get-go and only gets worse as it proceeds. This sort of picture must rely on one of two things to make it work, but it unfortunately has neither, resulting in a movie that only die-hard Carey fans will probably moderately enjoy.

The first element is its star and/or the character they play. Whether the character is real (Jim Morrison in "The Doors") or fictitious (any number of ones in "The Commitments"), they must engage the viewer on some level. Carey - who can no doubt carry a note, and then some - has zero screen presence here, no doubt hampered by her rough acting skills and Lanier's horribly deficient fleshing out of her character.

The brief back story of Billie being sent off to an orphanage is obviously designed as a means for us to see what's shaped her, but that's trivial at best and banally ineffective at worst. It doesn't help that the plot - supposedly not biographical but obviously sharing a great many similarities to Carey's life - is about as lame and predictable as they come (with the screenwriter doing a shameless and inferior rip-off of her far superior work in "What's Love Got to Do With It?"), thus deflating much of any interest from viewers.

Curtis Hall's direction doesn't help either. When not filling the numerous voids of the picture with fancy camera work and about a gazillion overhead, fly-by shots of New York City, his staging of various personal scenes -- that are presumably designed for some sort of emotional wallop - fall flat each and every time.

With that element striking out, one can only hope then that the music and/or musical performances might carry the picture, or at least make it marginally entertaining. While I suppose Carey's fans will enjoy the various songs to some degree, both the music and the staging of the numbers is surprisingly flat, evoking none of the infectious spirit that made such scenes in films like "Purple Rain" and "Selena" so much fun to watch. It doesn't help matters that the filmmakers absolutely fail to capture a credible spirit and/or essence of the music and club scene of the early '80s.

Supporting performance don't help matters, with Max Beesley ("The Match," "It Was An Accident") being rather unimpressive in his role obviously inspired by a combination of Ike Turner and Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola (Carey's ex who helped shape her career). Tia Texada ("Bait," "Nurse Betty") and Da Brat (making her feature film debut) can't do much in their comic relief roles, while Terrence Howard ("Big Momma's House," "Angel Eyes") is believable as a seedy producer, but is trapped in a contrived role. Singer/songwriter Eric Benet (making his feature film debut) also appears as - hold onto your pants - a singer/songwriter.

Yet another example of why certain people should stick to their chosen profession, the film simply doesn't work in most any regard as it retreads an overly familiar and predictable, rags to riches, musical tale. Belying its title, "Glitter" is about as dull and dreary as they come. The film rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed September 20, 2001 / Posted September 21, 2001

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