I’m not sure if they still make porn parodies of mainstream movies, but if they do there must be several companies fighting to register House of Fucci or House of Coochie as titles – and, frankly, there’s so much here that would fit perfectly into an upscale skinflick. The true crime podcast plot nugget expanded to two and a half hours by Ridley Scott during the short nap he took after making The Last Duel basically boils down to arch-diva Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) fucking people literally and metaphorically. It’s fortunate Gaga was available, because the only other actor who could have carried off the role – Divine, whose makeup look is sometimes evoked – is dead.
When Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) first meets Patrizia, he makes a joke about her looking like Elizabeth Taylor and she responds that she’s ‘way more fun’. Did people say ‘way more’ anything in 1978? It hardly matters, since this is one of those films where people speak Eglish in Italian accents and we’re supposed to assume they’re talking in Italian … the effect is to evoke those glossy international productions of the 1960s and ‘70s, of the sort Taylor used to appear in, even if this is going for something trashier. Scott often seems like someone who can’t walk away from projects or moods – recutting Blade Runner every few years, adding sequels to the Alien franchise, nearly bookending a career with period films about duels, sticking with Russell Crowe for a run of films. Here, as in All the Money in the World, he evokes the sleazy Italian crime movies of the 1970s – note that his assistant director is Roy Bava, son of Lamberto and grandson of Mario – and the more ruthless gialli. It welds designer label chic (some of it hideous – the funniest line is ‘people will be talking about this jacket for months’) to the bad behaviour of rich folks, with a detour into Fargo-ish ineptitude as Patrizia finally decides to have her ex assassinated and conspires with a TV psychic (Salma Hayek) to hire a couple of clods to do the hit on the cheap.
There’s something second tier about designer label snobbery, and Scott sometimes seems to be trying for the film equivalent of a knock-off you’d find down the market. The opera and ‘70s/’80s pop needle-drops are all hideously on the nose: if there were a Gaga-Hayek lesbian scene included, it’d have that Delibes Flower Song from Lakme Tony Scott used several times slathered over it. The film could probably do with about six more murders and Dario Argento stylings, but instead we spend hours with financial and fashion chicanery and get to watch Jeremy Irons (channelling Boris Karloff as the Mummy), Al Pacino (crooked uncle) and Jared Leto (for all I know, it could be Joaquin Phoenix under the makeup pretending to be Jared Leto) give performances that, in any other film, would throw the whole thing out of whack (watch Pacino and Leto argue about the messiness of a kitchen for a master-class in thespic plate-spinning). Lady Gaga’s first real acting endeavour was as a vampire on a season of American Horror Story and she doesn’t let go of that grand guignol grande dame style – though, again, it would be hard to play this role with icy understatement, and the only reason this is engaging throughout its running time is her presence.