‘Anna Nicole’ Lifetime movie is a sad mess

San Francisco ChronicleJune 27, 2013 

Agnes Bruckner as Anna Nicole Smith in Lifetime's "Anna Nicole."

BOB MAHONEY/LIFETIME

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    ‘Anna Nicole’

    8 p.m. Saturday on Lifetime

— Lifetime’s “Anna Nicole” is a pretty sad affair. It’s sad because some surprisingly skilled actors agreed to be in the cast, and it’s sad because Anna Nicole Smith’s life was one big trailer tragedy. But it’s also sad because six years after her death, she’s no longer fodder for even the sleaziest tabloid TV show.

Maybe Lifetime thinks the passage of six years will smooth over the more ridiculous elements of “Anna Nicole,” airing Saturday night, such as the fact that Agnes Bruckner could pass for the real Anna Nicole only if you squint your eyes – really, really tight.

The big problem with the film is that it doesn’t even pretend to go deeper than what we may remember from when Anna Nicole was the Lindsay Lohan of her day, America’s sweet train wreck. First she was Vickie Lynn Hogan, growing up poor and dreaming of being Marilyn Monroe. Then she became a stripper, got fake breasts, had a kid, changed her name, became a Playboy playmate and a Guess model, married a nearly dead Texas oil man and spent the rest of her life fighting his son over the estate and wound up without a penny of it. She had a second child, her first child, Daniel, died of a drug overdose, and then she died of an overdose.

What motivated her? Well, according to the film, it was seeing an image of her adult, post-implant self when she was just a child. The Anna Nicole of the mirror tells Vickie Lynn she can be loved and beautiful. Later, as an adult, she is back looking in the mirror, but this time, at the image of her simple, flat-chested child self reminding her there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, or some such.

Anna Nicole had a kind of pneumatic look that Bruckner never really achieves. It may seem strange to say this about someone with a mountain of blond hair piled on her head and a veritable cliff of boobage challenging her already shaky ability to stand upright, but Bruckner always looks just a bit too classy.

As for the rest of the cast, it pains me to have to list the major names who inexplicably agreed to participate, but here we go. Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen plays Anna’s mother, Adam Goldberg plays Anna’s later-in-life lawyer and companion, Howard K. Stern, and Cary Elwes plays the son of Anna’s oilman husband, J. Howard Marshall. OK, worst of all: You may want to avert your eyes and cover your ears when the great Martin Landau, as J. Howard, notes that he’s no longer able to “spring wood” when he’s wheeled into a strip club.

Except for the silly mirror-mirror scenes, the film begins promisingly as teenage Vickie Lynn is locked in her room by her mom because she’s already on the hunt for male companionship. “I just want to go bowling,” she whines, pounding at the locked door.

A few minutes later, she’s a single mom to baby Daniel and desperate to make a living. At this point, the film descends into a perfunctory review of superficial details about Anna Nicole’s life that may interest you only if your memory has faded.

There’s virtually no intelligent or convincing exploration of character in the film, beyond the shopworn theory that she craved fame to validate herself but traded whatever “self” she had to get it.

The film was directed by Mary Harron (“American Psycho”), who is capable of better work than this.

What a sad waste of an opportunity to go beyond the tabloid headlines.

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