What Robert Altman did to Hollywood in The Player, director Duncan Ward and screenwriter/novelist Danny Moynihan attempt to do to the big city art scene with Boogie Woogie, but unfortunately it doesn't work nearly as well despite flashes of brilliance here and there.
The film is set in present day London, England where a sneaky art dealer named Art Spindle (Danny Huston) simply has to get his hands on a piece called Boogie Woogie. Unfortunately for Spingle, a sickly and grumpy old man named Alfred Rhinegold (Christopher Lee) owns the piece and has for years - and at this point in his life, he has no intentions of selling it even if he stands to make almost fifteen million dollars on the sale. Mrs. Rhinegold (Joanna Lumely), however, would be more than happy to see her husband cash in on the piece's worth and take the money but her husband isn't having any of it.
Alfred's resistance, however, isn't stopping Art from trying to turn over the piece to two rabid collectors - Bob Maclestone (Stellan Skarsgard) and his wife Jean (Gillian Anderson), though philandering Bob is seemingly far more interested in the director of Art's gallery, Beth Freemantle (Heather Graham), who in turn is looking to get out from under Art's thumb and start up her own gallery, while various supporting characters (Jamie Winstone, Simon McBurney, Alan Cummings and Amanda Seyfred) pop in and out of the narrative seemingly at random.
Boogie Woogie does have some very clever moments of satire and is obviously quite content to take the piss out of the art community as a whole, but the film never quite comes together the way that you might hope it would. Yes, there are some memorable characters and a few strong performances but the film takes its carefree attitude and style too far to the point where the whole thing feels unfocused and, ultimately, fairly pointless. Not without its sporadic entertainment value the movie is nicely shot and makes good use of the colorful artwork which frequently lends interesting contrast to the sometimes stale looking gallery interiors. The cinematography is good and the visuals definitely suit the tone of the story and the characters that populate it.
As far as the performances go, it's hard to really gauge things without first noting that the vast majority of the characters in this movie are horrible people with no actual redeeming qualities. As such, it's easy to say you don't like the performances here but in reality, it's the characters we don't like - if you look at it that way, the cast are actually doing their job well. Christopher Lee is very well cast as the grumpy old man and he plays his part with efficiency and a certain amount of experience. His inimitable screen presence is used well and his back and forth with his wife, played by Joanna Lumely, is wholly believable. Danny Huston plays a snaky and ridiculously paranoid art dealer well enough and offers up enough backstabbing untrustworthiness to make the character work. Skarsgard and Anderson make a good couple, though not 'good' as in loving but 'good' as in a weird pairing and Skarsgard's lusting after the remarkably beautiful Heather Graham adds a further level of selfishness and seediness to the people who populate this world.
As strong as the cast is, however, the meandering nature of the script and rather unstructured narrative are going to cause problems for some viewers. Had there been more focus on a smaller cast this might have worked better as some of the smaller parts really don't add anything to the film except 'quirk for the sake of quirk.' The film has moments that work quite well, and just as many moments that don't work at all, resulting in a pretty uneven watch that had the potential to be considerably more involving than it turns out to be.
Boogie Woogie looks good in this 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The film uses a lot of interesting colors and contrast as it delves in and out of various art galleries and installations seen in the movie. Skin tones look nice and natural and quite lifelike and there are no problems to report with any print damage or scratches. Black levels are generally pretty strong though some minor compression artifacts do pop up in a couple of the darker scenes if you want to look for them. There isn't any obnoxious edge enhancement and only very mild line shimmering noticeable. All in all this is a well authored disc containing some very clean source material.
An English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix doesn't bombard you with constant channel separation but it does frequently use the rear channels to build some nice ambience and atmosphere. Subtle channel separation helps the crowd and party scenes by adding a bit more life to them while levels remain balanced throughout. This isn't the most involving mix ever made, but it sounds pretty good.
Extras are limited only to a theatrical trailer and a TV Spot. Menus and chapter selection are also offered.
Boogie Woogie is amusing and periodically even really interesting but the film's inconsistent tone and erratic pacing wind up hurting almost more than the good qualities can make up for. The different bit part players that make up the cast are fun and there are moments that work really well, but they can't quite consistently redeem this one. The DVD looks good and sounds fine but is light on extras which doesn't add much in the way of value to this release, though there are enough interesting characters and moments that this is worth renting.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.