Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The experimental dramatist Pirandello once wrote a play called "Six Characters in Search of an Author". Too bad that title was already taken, because it describes this movie to a "t". 

Except that they also needed a director. It's hard to believe this was directed by the same guy who directed that noted award magnet, Il Postino. Certainly nobody can say director Michael Radford is stuck in a rut. His earlier films include 1984, Delta of Venus, and B. Monkey, in addition to the critically-acclaimed Il Postino. Now he's using his considerable talent to bring us a sad, arty, improvisational, stripper movie.

It's good to know that, unlike most mad creators, he's now decided to use his genius for good instead of evil.

In researching his stripper movie, Radford found that there has been one and only one great movie on the subject (Atom Egoyan's Exotica), and that features the offbeat actor Elias Koteas, and Leonard Cohen's song, "Dancing to the End of Love". I guess Radford was informed of the rule which dictates that those are mandatory elements in stripper movies, because he also used them. 

It must work the same as the rule which requires directors to hire Billy Zane if they make a story about a sinking ship.

Seriously, the process of creating Blue Iguana was sorta-kinda interesting. It worked like an actor's workshop. The actresses were offered the parts as strippers, given a very rough description, then asked to invent a characterization for the film. Once the characterizations were established, they started interacting improvisationally.


six main women get topless, plus some background characters
  • Daryl Hannah
  • Charlotte Ayanna
  • Sheila Kelley
  • Sandra Oh
  • Jennifer Tilly
  • Kristin Bauer
Of course, that puts a lot of pressure on the performers. Since the film essentially has no core story, the lead characters had to make it interesting with their own dialogue and scenes derived from their imaginations. I think it worked quite well for characterization, but not for plot development. The problem with 100% reliance on this technique is that nothing ever happens in terms of structure, so it seems like an unfinished project. It ended up being only a character study with no structure or forward movement at all, despite some scenes which were quite touching, and others which were moderately funny. There was some good material there, but it just wasn't ever assembled.

Daryl Hannah did some funny improv. She's more talented than I thought. A social worker was interviewing Hannah to see if she was fit to provide foster care. Hannah was a doper, a ditz, lived in a rat-infested hovel without heat or A/C, and a was a stripper to boot. The social worker asked "what can you give this child?" Hannah's answer - "well, I have a teddy bear from when I was a girl, so they can have that, and I can make a really good fluffernutter". The Hannah character had also adopted Adam West as her father, although ol' Batman doesn't know about it yet. My favorite of her lines was when she asked a policeman to take a picture of her in front of her billboard. He asked, "wow, is that you?" She answered, "yes, but I'm a lot smaller."

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterboxed, 1.85:1. Excellent transfer

  • Full-length director commentary

  • full-length commentary by the actors about the improvisational techniques

  • unused footage (mostly alternate takes, not additional scenes)

I have to say the film isn't a total failure because I got emotionally involved and interested in a couple of the scenes, and when the film ended, despite 123 preceding minutes of unstructured rambling, I was actually kind of disappointed to see it end. I wanted to find out more about the characters. That implies that this might have been a brilliant experiment if the women had done some of their improvs in front of the camera, then some writers had written a more tightly-woven story involving the characters that the women created. As it is, however, it just rambles on and seems to end in the middle, and most of the threads introduced in the improvs just never get resolved. Frankly, it's hard enough to be an actor without having to be a writer as well.  

I still don't understand a crazy sub-plot with a Russian hit man who stalked the super-bim character played by Daryl Hannah. I think he was planning to kill a stripper with armor-penetrating bullets. I guess the strippers wear body armor in Russia. That way, they save on their insurance rates, and pass the savings on to you. 

There are some effective parts of this movie, good scenes and good characterizations - but there is no whole. They had the core of a good movie here, but they never really built on it. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. Berardinelli 2/4, filmcritic.com 2.5/5

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.8 
  • With their dollars ... virtually unreleased, it took in $30,000 on 7 screens, finishing just a hair short of Titanic's Box Office records. Assuming it played for a week, three times per night, that's about 25 people per showing!  
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-. Could be interesting for you to watch the improv technique, and has some good scenes, but the lack of structure keeps it from being a good movie overall. For celebrity nudity lovers , it is a treasure, because it does have considerable toplessness from famous women.

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