The debut film by Roman Coppola, Francis Ford’s son, is based on an amusing conceit that’s at once nostalgic–spoofing the garishly trashy Eurotrash adventure movies that proliferated during the 1960s–and jokingly “insider” in that it involves a mere editor who’s called upon to finish directing a picture when the original helmer is sacked mid-stream (a sort of riff on the old “42nd Street” Broadway formula). Unfortunately, however, “CQ” proves so ragged and meandering itself that it’s not greatly superior to the pictures it affectionately sends up. It’s neither sharp enough to be a successful satire nor extravagantly bad enough to become a guilty pleasure; instead it falls resolutely into the mediocre middle.
The central character is Paul (Jeremy Davies), a young American who’s cutting “Dragonfly,” a super-spy flick that’s sort of an amalgam of “Modesty Blaise” and “Danger: Diabolik,” for Enzo (Giancarlo Giannini), a suavely maniacal Italian producer. Simultaneously the dour fellow is trying to shoot a black-and-white documentary about his own life with fiancé Marlene (Elodie Bouchez). Shortly, however, Enzo fires the director of “Dragonfly,” Andrezej (Gerard Depardieu), who can’t come up with a suitably exciting ending, and replaces him with American wunderkind Felix DeMarco (Jason Schwartzman), who was once a underling to Paul. Before long, though, Felix leaves the project too, so Enzo promotes Paul, whom he expects to fix the project posthaste. Many complications ensue. Paul grows obsessed with the star of the picture, Valentine (Angela Lindvall), and his relationship with Marlene deteriorates; a mysterious figure tries to sabotage the shoot; Paul’s abstracted father (Dean Stockwell) shows up briefly in Rome; and occasionally some “fantasy critics” (L.M. Kit Carson among them) appear to object to how Paul’s dealing with both his projects.
There are plenty of influences at work here–not only “Diabolik” (whose star John Phillip Law appears in “Dragonfly”) and “David Holzman’s Diary” of 1968 (in which a young filmmaker made a diary of his life, and which starred Carson), but also the anti-establishment, Marxist flicks of the Vietnam period (Paul is determined that the ending of “Dragonfly” be true to the “rebel” vision that Andrezej had in mind for it) and Fellini’s “8 1/2.” Buffs will undoubtedly enjoy picking out the references that abound throughout.
Unfortunately, that sort of gamesmanship is about all the pleasure that “CQ” really affords. The characters are either dull (Davies walks through the proceedings virtually comatose as Paul) or gruesomely unsubtle (Schwartzman’s turn, which appears to be a send-up of the brash young William Friedkin, is less funny than sloppily over-the-top, much like his performance in “Slackers”). Most of the cast (Lindvall, Depardieu, Billy Zane as the hunky, Che Guevara-like co-star of “Dragonfly”) seem to be wandering about largely undirected. The only person who makes much of a favorable impression is Giannini, who seems to be having the time of his life playing the extravagant Roman impresario (the sort of fellow he’s probably well acquainted with from his own career).
But one can’t blame the on-screen talent overmuch; nor should one fault the design crew, who have done a rather remarkable job of recreating the florid ambience of the late sixties on an obviously modest budget (the sets for “Dragonfly,” for example, nicely recall the look of “Barbarella”). The real problem lies off-camera, in a script that proves far less than the sum of its parts and in direction that can most charitably be described as haphazard. “CQ” (which stands for “Seek you,” an invitation to make contact) is ultimately one of those pictures whose promising, if rather precious, premise is undercut by amateurish execution. It has its good moments, but you have to endure a lot of dross to find them. In the present instance, unhappily, the message for filmgoers looking for consistent amusement has to be “seek elsewhere.”