A Rowdy Tale, Told by Cellphone Cameras
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
From its opening scene, in which a potty-mouthed young stripper masturbates for a paying audience through her bedroom webcam, “King Kelly,” Andrew Neel’s furious satire of fame lust in the Internet age, made me chortle with contempt.
Not for the movie, which is grimly moralistic, but for the unholy intersection of narcissism and amateur pornography via cellphone camera that has turned the Internet into a platform for trashy, do-it-yourself reality marathons of self-exhibition.
The cinematic coup of “King Kelly” is that it was filmed almost entirely on cellphone cameras. Its visual perspective is so narrow that it traps you inside the consciousness of characters who can’t see outside themselves and their self-images. What is it about low-tech video that lends it a frisson of documentary truth, so that — however bogus it may be — your impulse is to trust it? Maybe its very crudeness makes the content feel more authentic.
Conceptually, “King Kelly” flaunts the same audacity as “The Blair Witch Project,” now more than a decade old, which was cleverly marketed as a collection of “found footage.” After all the developments in the media landscape since that movie was released in 1999 — YouTube and Facebook leading the list — 1999 might as well be 1899. A decade hence, “King Kelly” will probably seem just as quaint.
The movie’s other master stroke is the artfully unhinged lead performance of Louisa Krause as the despicable King Kelly, a character who would have been ready-made for Tuesday Weld. This overgrown Lolita is old enough to purchase liquor but behaves like a 13-year-old brat. Without her parents’ knowledge, she films herself in her bedroom in their suburban New York home. The next step in her hellbent pursuit of fame, she announces, will be her own Web site.
The story follows Kelly and her sidekick, Jordan (Libby Woodbridge), over 24 hours during which they try to retrieve a package of drugs stashed in the trunk of a maroon Toyota Camry jointly owned by Kelly and her former boyfriend, Ryan (Will Brill), who makes off with the vehicle. Kelly, an occasional drug mule, panics after she is warned that the package contains heroin and not prescription medications. It is the Fourth of July, and Kelly’s search lands her at a wild party on Staten Island, where the sheer grossness rivals the teenage bacchanal in “Project X.”
The trip is a worsening nightmare fueled by cocaine, booze and ketamine, in which the friends, in stoned, drunken confusion, run the car off the road, all the while recording their adventures. In desperation, Kelly summons one of her bedroom chat mates, a state trooper (Roderick Hill) who goes by the screen name Poo Bare. Rushing to her rescue, he is quickly lured to run wild by her cocaine and her promise of sex. Before long he is as dangerously out of control as Harvey Keitel’s “Bad Lieutenant.”
If social satire that elicits scornful laughter is your kind of humor, “King Kelly” will have you doubled over with guilty guffaws.