Dyed-in-the-wool fans of the late Stanley Kubrick will have a few knowing laughs from "Color Me Kubrick." The fanciful film (proclaimed "true-ish" by its makers) concerns the exploits of Alan Conway, a huckster who successfully impersonated the legendary, reclusive director through the 1990s. The impostor knew zilch about the filmmaker, looked nothing like him, yet he left a trail of starstruck dupes in his wake, all of them poorer for the experience.
In exchange for promises of roles in upcoming productions (such as his sequel, "3001: A Space Odyssey"), Conway took his victims for expensive gifts, lavish meals and sordid sexual favors. This kind of high-concept hoodwinkery works best when the crook is an audacious scalawag who makes us his accomplices (see Leonardo DiCaprio in "Catch Me If You Can"). John Malkovich's Conway doesn't earn our loyalty. His character is too weird and pathetic to inspire identification, and most of his dupes are "unwashed, unloved, unwanted and unknown" dopes rather than high rollers. But Malkovich plays the role in zany high style, with arch mannerisms that would be over the top at a drag contest. He changes accents more often than most people do their socks and flounces about in thrift-shop castoffs. The more implausible he acts, the more his victims marvel at his artistic eccentricity.
There are plenty of inside jokes: Director Brian Cook was assistant director on Kubrick's "The Shining, "Barry Lyndon" and "Eyes Wide Shut," and screenwriter Anthony Frewin was Kubrick's personal assistant from "2001: A Space Odyssey" until the director's death. They stud the story with ironic visual and musical tributes to the master's work. Still, without much insight into the self-dramatizing enigma of Conway, nor any representation of the solitary auteur he impersonated, the film becomes a repetitive series of small-scale con games played on cabdrivers, bar owners and wannabe stars. You come away feeling that to really appreciate the joke, you had to be there. ** out of four stars
Unrated by the MPAA; mature themes, profanity.