Join us for our year-long celebration of the USA World Premiere Movie in conjunction with Made-for-TV Mayhem! Check out out previous entries on THE FORGOTTEN here, MURDER BY NIGHT here, THE TICKET here, SNOW KILL here, DEADLY GAME here, ACCIDENTAL MEETING here, HITLER’S DAUGHTER here, ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT? here, AS GOOD AS DEAD here and MURDER ON SHADOW MOUNTAIN here, TRUCKS here, OUR MOTHER’S MURDER here , THE HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE here, ULTIMATE DECEPTION here, NIGHTMARE ON THE 13TH FLOOR here and WRITER’S BLOCK here!
From 1989 until the mid-‘90s, the USA Network churned out its original films like a well-oiled machine, airing two new titles every month at the height of their glory. By the late ’90s, however, the network was starting to change, dumping its’ long-running cartoon block and the B-movie staple “Up All Night,” and bringing in more original programming, like “Pacific Blue” and “Silk Stalkings.” Their original movies started to become less frequent as well, and THE CHIPPENDALES MURDER, aired in 2000, may be the chronologically latest film we cover as part of the USA World Premiere Movie Project – it may not have even aired under the “USA World Premiere Movie” banner.
With that in mind, you might think that THE CHIPPENDALES MURDER is a skimpy affair, put together with resources that show a company that has little faith to spend the money on a declining property. Surprisingly, that’s not the case at all. Directed by Eric Bross, who started his career with the well-received indies TEN BENNY and RESTAURANT, THE CHIPPENDALES MURDER is one of the network’s most ambitious films, a tale that spans a decade of murder, deception and dancing, and one of the network’s few forays into the true crime story.
It also has beefcake. Lots of beefcake.
In fact, THE CHIPPENDALES MURDER is a bit too ambitious. Despite the title emphasizing a single event, the film tells a shorthand version of the full history of the male stripper franchise that rose to prominence in the 1980s to such a degree where even your grandmother knew what a Chippendales Dancer’s costume resembled. (Like trends such as Cabbage Patch Dolls, Magic: The Gathering and Pat Buchanan, Chippendales is, of course, still around, though in diminished cultural form.) The story begins in 1975, when Steve Banerjee (Naveen Andrews) opens a nightclub featuring male strippers, a plan that kicks into gear with the arrival of choreographer Nick DeNoia (Paul Hipp), who comes to the club to utilize their female mud wrestling event for a film project.
DeNoia quickly takes Banerjee’s ideas and whips them into shape with his more pro-active personality, recruiting hunky dancers from fitness clubs and giving them routines that would best work with groups of horny, flesh-crazed ladies. Conflicts begin to arise between the two, and soon DeNoia is striking out on his own, using the Chippendales name to bring the franchise to new locations – and without Banerjee’s involvement. The jilted founder soon takes his vengeance out on DeNoia by hiring a low-rent assassin to shoot him in his office.
A reinvigorated Banerjee next sets his sights on one of his performers, whom he plans to poison when he leaves the show and sets up shop in England. Everything goes poorly, however, and he soon finds himself not only under investigation for an attempted murder, but for the successful taking out of DeNoia as well.
There is, in short, a hell of a lot going on in THE CHIPPENDALES MURDER, and while it’s a simplification of the events (Banerjee’s other partners in the start-up, Bruce Nahin and infamous Dorothy Stratten murderer Paul Snider aren’t even mentioned), there’s certainly plenty of drama involved to fill a BOOGIE NIGHTS/AMERICAN HUSTLE –level epic tale of the greed, sex, and power of the era. We also get a rape trial and Banerjee’s budding relationship with his future wife, both of which are a bit distracting to the main plot but would be more than welcome in a longer, two-plus hour version of the same story. It’s no wonder why Tony Scott had wanted to get a project on the sordid history of the brand off the ground for years – this would have, and still could be, an amazing film in the right hands.
And, lord, do Bross and writer Richard DeLong Adams (I ESCAPED FROM DEVIL’S ISLAND) try their hardest to stick an epic story into the 90-minute confines of a USA Movie. There’s plenty of quick editing, and even if the pace ends up feeling rushed, you can tell the filmmakers just wanted to get as much information in as possible, while still having the prerequisite beefcake that a title like this would imply. You also get a surprisingly hefty use of decent music that I’m surprised the network sprung for – the soundtrack includes “Lady Marmalade,” “It’s Raining Men” and Bananarama’s “Venus,” and even includes a suitably fake version of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and they’re all used to good effect.
THE CHIPPENDALES MURDER may certainly be of interest to fans of Andrews, but those hoping the actor, midway between his hunky roles in THE ENGLISH PATIENT and “Lost,” gets in on the beefy proceedings will be disappointed, as the actor never even takes his shirt off, leaving the chest-baring to the muscle-bound supporting cast. Instead, Banerjee is presented as a fairly weak-willed man who just wants to create entertainment for women, and lashes out through duplicitous means when he’s double-crossed rather than standing up for himself in person. It’s almost like a Eugene Levy role, albeit one with an Indian accent and a body count.
The rest of the performances are of varying quality, though Hipp’s portrayal of DeNoia is pretty fantastic, like a more vindictive version of Roy Scheider’s Joe Gideon in ALL THAT JAZZ, a cruel taskmaster that chides his dancers for being too gay and won’t put up with any deviation from his vision. The interplay between DeNoia and Banerjee is a great center to the film, so much so that CHIPPENDALES MURDER almost feels like it’s just biding its time after the choreographer’s demise.
THE CHIPPENDALES MURDER isn’t a masterpiece by any means – it’s a much larger, and completely compelling, tale forced into the time, budget and censorship constraints of a basic cable television movie, and it certainly shows. (That said, some of the G-strings leave little to the imagination, and it certainly doesn’t skimp on the near-nudity.) It’s a valiant effort, and I admire USA, Bross and Adams for trying, but it’s really more suitable for a studio willing to shell out the money and a filmmaker willing to push the boundaries. Who knows, maybe with MAGIC MIKE 2 on the horizon, someone will take up the project and create a genuinely great movie out of it (or a pretty terrible one, like 54), but until then, THE CHIPPENDALES MURDER will have to do.
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