Polanski Unauthorized

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/17/09 21:59:34

1 stars (Sucks)

As those of you who have been reading my reviews for a while have no doubt come to know over time, I am rarely if ever daunted by the prospect of writing about a particularly awful movie--even things as atrocious as “Four Christmases,” “Disaster Movie” and the oeuvre of Uwe Boll have inspired long and highly detailed analyses (perhaps too long and highly detailed, according to some people) in which I have attempted to grapple with what they were trying to achieve in the first place, explain how badly they failed to reach those goals and unload large amounts of bitter and only tenuously amusing snark. And yet, every once in a while, a movie comes around that is so awful, so incompetently conceived and executed and so lacking in even the slightest traces of taste, sanity or artistic content that even I find myself flummoxed at the very notion of attempting to convey its lousiness into a few coherent paragraphs in a way that won‘t leave you convinced that I have gone crazy. The staggeringly cheap and staggeringly incompetent “Polanski Unauthorized” is just that kind of film--a low-budget vanity production that attempts to recreate a number of (in)famous names and incidents without any evident point to the proceedings other than naked exploitation and does it so badly that it doesn’t even work as inadvertent comedy. To describe the film as this generation’s “Wired” hardly begins to scratch the surface. This is a movie so bad that the people who actually made “Wired” can actually look down upon it without coming across as hypocritical.

Instead of giving us a straightforward narrative look into Polanski’s life, writer-director-producer-star Damian Chapa has instead chosen a decidedly random approach (to call it a mosaic would be a great disservice to the fine word “mosaic”) in which key events are juxtaposed in ways that lack any real rhyme or reason. At some points, we see him as a little boy in Poland during World War II as he is separated from his father, witnesses his mother being raped in a concentration camp and imagines her being sent to the gas chamber after he escapes. Later on, we see him in the mid-1960’s as a randy young filmmaker-on-the-make who meets his match in beautiful young starlet Sharon Tate (Brienne De Beau) and falls in love with her during the production of the immortal horror-comedy classic “The Fearless Vampire Killers.” A few years later, he is deep in the middle of production of his first major Hollywood film, “Rosemary’s Baby,” and his quest for realism leads him to make a deal with, uh. . .the Devil (Thomas Druilhet) in which old Scratch will serve as a technical adviser. When the two have a falling-out later on (it turns out that Satan himself wants to play himself in the film during the scene in which he impregnates Mia Farrow), the Author of All Lies is seen getting his revenge after a chance meeting in a bar with a couple of hippie chicks talking about their pal Charlie. (At this point, I should probably point out that the Devil is actually supposed to be noted Satanist Anton LaVey. I should also probably point out that if you are making a movie about the life of Roman Polanski and The Devil gets third billing in the end credits, you may have a few flaws with you r overriding concept.) This, of course, leads to a recreation of the infamous and still-horrific Tate-LaBianca murders that is bizarrely intercut with images of Polanski graphically nailing another woman in Europe at the same time in what I can only assume is Chapa’a demented tribute to the single dumbest scene in “Munich.” Finally, and inevitably, we are treated to a long recreation of that 1977 day in Los Angeles in which Polanski drugged and had sex with a 13-year-old girl that he was photographing for a magazine assignment, acts that lead to his arrest, brief incarceration at the mental ward at Chino State Penitentiary and eventual escape to Europe once it became evident that the judge was going to ignore the findings of the psychologists in order to make himself look better in the eyes of the media.

Looking back on “Polanski Unauthorized,” I cannot think of a single level on which it doesn’t fail miserably. The acting is uniformly terrible--with the exception of De Beau, who at least captures a little bit of the aura of Sharon Tate (at least until she starts talking), none of the actors are remotely convincing whether they are playing famous people or not. (The guy who briefly appears here as Frank Sinatra is so spectacularly unconvincing that it may be the single worst Sinatra impression ever performed--yes, worse than the one done by your Uncle Elmer after three drinks at Christmastime.) The direction is non-existent--between the plodding pacing and incompetent editing, the film, which only clocks in at about 90 minutes, feels as if it runs for about three hours or so. The production values are so completely amateurish that every one of the film’s locations--be it a swinging London party or a concentration camp or Jack Nicholson’s house or the woods of Poland--looks like it was shot in someone’s rec room. And yet, if Chapa had demonstrated any genuine working interest in Polanski’s life and work, I suppose that I could have found my way to at least somewhat overlook the numerous artistic and technical stumbles on display. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Chapa has absolutely no interest in Polanski as anything other than a person whose life has been marked by the kind of lurid and unspeakable events that can be easily recreated in the sleaziest manner possible without putting any real thought into what could have inspired them. For example, during the long and lurid sequence in which Polanski drugs and rapes his underage photographic subject, Chapa offers up no hint as to the internal demons that drove him to perform such an act but he does make sure to let us know the location of his point of entry. As further proof that the film is only interested in him as a source of exploitation, consider the fact that the period covered in this film ends with him fleeing to Europe and never mentions his later personal rehabilitation as a husband and father or his professional rehabilitation as the maker of the award-winning triumph “The Pianist.” In fact, the portrayal of Polanski’s life as depicted here is so shallow and thoughtless that even those who think that he is a degenerate pervert who deserves to be languishing in prison may come out of this film thinking that he has been given a raw deal.

“Polanski Unauthorized” is the absolute pits--a piece of tasteless, borderline offensive and terminally unwatchable junk that deserves to be tossed up on the same high and dusty shelf as the ultra-tacky likes of “Survive” and “Guyana: Cult of the Damned.” If you have any interest in Polanski and his life and work, there are plenty of other sources to choose from than this garbage. There is Polanski’s autobiography, “Roman,” a work which may inevitably be a little one-sided but which remains one of the great director autobiographies written to date. Then there is “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” the fascinating 2008 documentary that offered up a new look at the rape case and its legal aftermath while also offering a penetrating glimpse at Polanski’s life via interviews and judiciously chosen clips from his films. Then there are the numerous other biographies of Polanski that have been written over the years that have attempted to get a handle on the man and his work. Oh hell, who am I kidding? You could grab a book consisting of nothing but Polish jokes and it would still contain more incisive thought and intellectual curiosity towards Polanski than “Polanski Unauthorized.” Not only that, it could probably do a better Sinatra impression as well.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.