If your dad was the genius who made "The Godfather" trilogy and "Apocalypse Now," chances are you'd want to do whatever you could to avoid his shadow. Unfazed, music video director Roman Coppola has chosen to walk in his father's footsteps, albeit in less prepossessing shoes. Even Francis, after all, had to cut his teeth on cheap-jack horror movies.
Francis Ford Coppola's low-budget salad days are one of the many dippy souvenirs of cinema yesteryear sent up in Roman Coppola's debut feature, "CQ," a daffy homage to filmmaking in the '60s that is too stylish to be written off as an act of dues paying but, at the end of the day, too inconsequential to be seen as anything more than a very sleek-looking college prank.
Set in Paris in 1969, "CQ" revolves around the shooting of a futuristic spy thriller called "Dragonfly." It has racy echoes of "Barbarella," whose sexpot heroine was pop culture's nod to the ascension of female power and the primacy of the male libido. Coppola's protagonist is an aspiring young American filmmaker named Paul (Jeremy Davies) who is working on the film as an editor when the tempestuous, Dino De Laurentiis-like producer (Giancarlo Giannini, playing to the hilt) presses him into service to finish directing the movie.
Paul faces two dilemmas. The film's original director, an arty European type (Gerard Depardieu) who had intended to end the film on a pretentiously ambiguous note, has left him without a windup. And his sultry American leading lady (Angela Lindvall), a part-time political activist (get it?), is distracting him from his Parisian girlfriend (Elodie Bouchez).
"CQ" gets off to a ticklishly funny start with a scene from "Dragonfly" that apes the all-white plush decor of "Modesty Blaise" and Jane Fonda's shameless striptease in the opening credits of "Barbarella." Coppola loses his satirical zest as Paul gets deeper into the muck of show business and "CQ" begins to emulate that sullen school of movies about the existential problems of being a movie director. Davies' mopey, hands-in-pockets routine, which he has been cultivating since "Spanking the Monkey," wears thin in concert with the picture.
Also in danger of ossifying before his time is Coppola's cousin, Jason Schwartzman, paying winking homage to the family as a brash wunderkind director of quickie horror movies. Since his debut as the precocious young hero of "Rushmore," Schwartzman has fallen into self-caricature with flashy blowhards like the student nerd he impersonated in the stupefying "Slackers." We can only hope these multitalented cousins have gotten their sophomore year in movies out of their systems.
MPAA rating: R for some nudity and language. Times guidelines: Acceptable for mature teens, who may find it amusing and stylish, but many likely won't get the references.
Jan Stuart is a film critic for Newsday, a Tribune company.
Jason Schwartzman...Felix DeMarco
United Artists presents an American Zoetrope production, Delux Productions, in association with the Film Fund Luxembourg, released by MGM. Writer-director Roman Coppola. Producer Gary Marcus. Executive producers Francis Ford Coppola, Georgia Kacandes, Willi Baer. Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman. Editor Leslie Jones. Costume designer Judy Shrewsbury. Music Mellow. Production designer Dean Tavoularis. Art directors Luc Chalon, Oshin Yeghiazariantz. Set decorator Philippe Turlure. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
In limited release.