When a movie has you clinging to the comparative humanity, wit and thoughtfulness of a Denise Richards performance as a positive, something wrong probably happened over the past 80 minutes. And indeed, much goes wrong with the celeb culture satire "Reality Queen!", a cheap, loud, cruel and – worst of all – cruelly laugh-devoid comedy that desperately wants to mock the shallow, dumb, hacky and tasteless world of celebrity, only to prove it’s equally all of those things in the process. It’s a feature-length "Spider-man pointing at Spider-man" meme … but also with a dog peeing on an unconscious woman bleeding out on the street.
Told via a "mockumentary" approach so half-hearted it makes "Parks & Rec" look like a Maysles film, "Reality Queen!" follows British reporter Diana Smelt-Marlin (Kate Orsini) as she chronicles the life of the Hilton-esque London Logo (Milwaukee native Julia Faye West), a professionally famous heiress on the decline after a reporter knocks her out in the alley from "The Room" and leaves her in the hospital with amnesia. It’s an ailment the film’s script (penned by eight writers) also suffers from, as this potential plot hook will almost never be mentioned again as the movie ambles from witless gag to witless gag.
Waking up barely clinging to her precious tabloids, Logo attempts to comeback via failed DJ sets, "writing" a memoir, rekindling her old reality show glory with former heiress friend Rochelle Ritzy (Shelli Boone) and feuding with the latest queens of the reality royalty, the posterior-gifted Kristy Kim and the Kim sisters. Again: It took eight writers to name their Kardashian stand-ins the "Kim sisters." Oh, and also a third-billed Mike Tyson shows up as himself for a whole 15 seconds seemingly filmed in a closet (which, frankly, is on par with most of the production, filled with cheap and overlit sets and inconsistently edited).
As dumb and bumbling as London Logo can be, at least the celebutante knows that the worst thing a famous person can be is old news. Reportedly finished in 2017, "Reality Queen!" feels at least a decade older thanks to a bombardment of jokes and references that’ve been collecting dust since two presidencies ago. A spoof of "Larry King Live" plays a key role in the film, a show that hasn’t been on air since 2010, but that’s practically TikTok compared to making a "MJ dangling baby" gag or naming a character Joe the Plumber (played by the late great John Witherspoon, who hopefully has another project in the can somewhere so this isn’t the final entry on his IMDB page). And hey, while it’s been 13 years since it was on TV, much less relevant, finally we have something with the bravery to take down "The Simple Life."
It takes a lot to turn making fun of do-nothing billionaire celebs into ugly punching down – but the played-out, obvious and outdated jokes here pull it off.
As dumb as "Reality Queen!" thinks its characters are, director Steven Jay Bernheim thinks the audience is even dumber. When the comedy’s not beating dead-horse topics and references, it’s busy murdering its own punchlines with hacky, hammy delivery. Its favorite set-up involves having Smelt-Marlin play the Jim to Logo’s Michael Scott, minus the cleverness, nuance and comedic timing. So instead it’s simply over-explaining that a ridiculous thing is ridiculous – you know, just in case the viewer can’t figure out that a gerbil isn’t a "micro-chihuahua."
It’s still preferred to Bernheim’s tendency to underline gags, and sometimes merely characters' nationalities, with stereotypical music cues – amateurish at best, bordering on racist at worst. An Indian doctor is Indian? Clearly the incisive height of comedy! For a movie railing on the tabloid culture’s idiotic pandering, "Reality Queen!" sure never misses an opportunity to lazily pursue the lowest common denominator.
Of course, when you place the bar somewhere between the wreckage of the Titanic and the Earth’s molten core, you’re bound to get over it occasionally. So "Reality Queen!" isn’t an entirely laugh-free endeavor. (Put that rave on the poster!) There’s a Helen Mirren reference that’s so unexpected you can’t help but react, and London’s mom gets an enjoyably sharp line about her daughter’s book. But the groans, eye-rolls and sweatily delivered crass punchlines outnumber the polite chuckles by the dozens – and the eons spent between them is painful as the viewer is stuck hanging with its shrill characters and their mean-spirited worldviews in a shabbily assembled production.
As London Logo, West plays down to her character’s ugliness. By the time the movie tries to redeem her even a bit, it’s far too late – not to mention too convoluted to land with any impact. Orsini’s Smelt-Marlin is too smug and condescending to effectively work as an audience surrogate, while everyone else – from the Kim sisters to Logo’s greasy stalker, prone to fits of public masturbation – is a grim caricature. The only person who registers as a human being with something pulsing in her veins beyond screenwriter’s bile is – no joke this time – Denise Richards, who actually bothers to give Logo’s suffering best friend something resembling humanity.
Otherwise, "Reality Queen!" hates its lead character. It hates everyone around her, and it hates the media mindlessly following along. And maybe that could all qualify as failed satire – but in the process, it also hates women, who bear the brunt of the movie’s punishments and degradations. (Rochelle, for instance, earns the film’s mocking contempt for … being sexually active and a harried single mother?) And it hates overweight people. And maybe most of all, it hates you, the audience for apparently being so stupid.
After sitting through this movie – one just as regressive and brain cell-stunting as its target, if not more so – the feeling is mutual.
"Reality Queen!": * out of ****
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.