Young Michael immerses himself in New York's burgeoning nightlife culture and somehow becomes its master of ceremonies, throwing excessive ecstasy-fueled parties at the Limelight, despite the reservations of owner Peter Gatien (Dylan McDermott). James St. James (Seth Green) serves at first as Michael's muse, the idea man behind the Club Kid movement, but gradually assumes the reluctant voice of Michael's conscience as his drug use gets ugly.
Culkin clearly chose Party Monster as his comeback role because of its shock value, and he milks dry Michael's seemingly endless appetite for ego stroking. He plays a pathetic mess with particular aplomb, and it's a somehow appropriate grown-up turn for the still cherubic Home Alone survivor.
But the film's real star is Green, who approximates an emotional core in this thoroughly vacuous affair. Granted, the subject matter screams for fabulousness over substance, and Green's swishy Oscar Wildean performance adds only a glimpse of soul to the empty techno backbeat.
Writer/directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato based Party Monster on their Cinemax documentary of the same name, as well as St. James' book Disco Bloodbath. The big-screen treatment works as a frequently stunning fashion show, with a parade of eye-popping costumes, but it explores less of the arms-in-the-air, rave-til-dawn club scene than you might expect. It invests inordinate attention on Michael's cracked-out private life.
Party Monster's claustrophobic K-hole moments don't just kill the buzz, they obliterate it. We never get a real sense of why Michael, clearly a wreck, can keep such a devoted coterie, which makes his downfall all the less dramatic. The cautionary tale of drug dependency feels way too Hollywood for the context, and its light treatment of the murder itself doesn't inspire the intended disgust so much as resignation.
Near the film's end, James shrieks to Michael: "You're trying to turn this into an 'After-School Special'!"