As a principle, I don’t bring up other movies into writing on another unless it’s absolutely necessary (e.g., a remake, a direct verbal or visual reference that’s amusing or important, etc.). The effect of excessive reference is a sensation that the writer is either lazy or name-dropping, so, despite the rule of everything in moderation, I try to avoid it to the point of almost non-existence. Then a movie like CQ comes along and gums up the works.

It’s almost impossible to discuss writer/director Roman Coppola’s first and — at this point — only feature without bringing up at least three other films. CQ wears its influences and homage on its sleeve.

There are shades of (a troubled science-fiction production leads to a series of sex-based fantasies). The concept of David Holzman’s Diary (a man obsessively films everything to find truth in the world, leading to problems with his girlfriend, though without the resulting stalker behavior) is the backstory for the hero. The whole time, people are making a sexy science-fiction romp, à la Barbarella, set in 2001 as envisioned by the people of 1969.

There are three main threads glued together by Paul (Jeremy Davies), the editor of the movie within the movie. The project’s first director (Gérard Depardieu) leads the plot to nowhere, leading the producer (Giancarlo Giannini) to fire him

Felix DeMarco (Jason Schwartzman), whose quick ascent to the director’s chair draws Paul’s admiring envy, takes over. Someone, though, is sabotaging the reshoot, eventually leading to Paul taking the reins.

Each piece of the narrative trio works on its own. Paul’s studio movie is much campy fun involving a super-sexy secret agent code-named Dragonfly (Angela Lindvall) who must travel to a base on the dark side of the moon where the revolutionary Mr. E (Billy Zane, as a lunar Che Guevara) has a super-secret weapon. Models, rear projection, rotoscoped laser effects, and even a parachuting action figure are the means for the special effects, and the thin plot is mainly an excuse for Dragonfly to be in skimpy, skin-tight costumes (or just covered by sheets). It’s spot-on, right down to the shag-carpeted interior of Dragonfly’s lunar lander.

Behind the scenes, the cast of characters, from Schwartzman’s director who believes “sexy” is the greatest signifier of quality (he also helps Paul cut the movie’s trailer by offering two words of advice: “Dazzling” and “Fascinating!”) to Giannini’s producer (a mildly disguised version of Dino De Laurentiis) who, after thirty-five productions, believes the ending determines worth to Depardieu’s director who wants the revolution to be on film (even one as frivolous as this), are an eclectic, enjoyable, bunch.

The weakest section involves Paul’s 16mm testimonials, filmed as he sits on the toilet (about as unsubtle a jab at self-importance as one can get), and his relationship with girlfriend, Marlene (Élodie Bouchez). His dreams of a doting press turning hostile, of course, echo our own response after a while of conscious ambiguity.

Coppola treats these self-referential storylines with sensible amusement (the statement on the commercial end of artistic endeavors is particularly levelheaded: A trivial necessary evil in which there is the opportunity for creativity or at least the financial stability to do whatever pet project you want afterward), but the ties are strained (the conspiracy against the movie within mirrors its own climax, both involving a shadowy figure and a car chase). CQ sacrifices the effectiveness of the individual divisions in the name of an elusive, cluttered whole.

Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.

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