Picks and Pans Review: Ed Wood

updated 10/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette

Director Tim Burton, whose career is based on a morbid yet sentimental affection for the world's grotesqueries and misfits, has found an ideal subject in Ed Wood (1924-1978). A grade-Z horror director, Wood was also a transvestite, fond of dressing in angora sweaters and wearing pumps both behind the camera and (in the case of his 1953 ode to drag, Glen or Glenda?) before it. Wood's career, which had never ventured more than an inch or so beyond the lint pile of obscurity, was resurrected (sort of) in 1980, when his 1959 fiasco Plan 9 from Outer Space was saluted as all-time worst movie in Michael and Harry Medved's book The Golden Turkey Awards. Plan 9 is, indeed, a remarkably inept flying-saucer movie. It stars Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson; TV horror hostess Vampira; an aged, dissipated Bela Lugosi; and—because Lugosi died after filming only one scene—a Lugosi stand-in, Wood's chiropractor, Tom Mason, who stalked about the film's main set, a cemetery of cardboard tombstones, with a black cape draped across his face.

Does this really sound any worse than Natural Born Killers?

But I digress. Ed Wood is a sweet, self-contained piece of work that aspires to nothing more than a cheesy integrity worthy of the master. To that end, it succeeds. It's nicely shot in black and white and blessed with a near-perfect cast. Actually, Landau, as Dracula star Lugosi, is perfection. The physical resemblance is astonishing, and the hollow-eyed anguish of his morphine addiction is the movie's one bit of genuine emotional depth. Bill Murray is typically giddy as would-be transsexual Bunny Breckinridge. Parker and Arquette, as Wood's flames, both have an intriguingly oblique quality.

The only misfire, alas, is Depp, who was so haunting in Burton's Edward Scissorhands. Here, he tends to throw his head back and deliver his lines with an ironic, eager-beaver snap. He seems to be doing a Jon Lovitz impersonation. (R)

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