No, that’s not David Spade playing Andy Warhol late in the overwrought melodrama of Enfant Terrible. But it might as well be. This lurid biopic of iconoclastic director Rainer Werner Fassbinder too often feels like an R-rated “SNL” skit. Despite the presence of a fierce impersonation from Oliver Masucci, director Oskar Roehler’s stylistic Fassbinder impression is a superficial by-the-numbers profile. The movie isn’t afraid to depict how its subject emotionally and physically abused everyone around him, but such tabloid sensationalism, reducing the artist to anger and (suggested) genitalia, avoids any real insight into what drove his tortured mind.

After completing 40 feature films in a whirlwind of cocaine-fueled activity, Fassbinder died in 1982, looking much older than his 37 years. So Masucci, despite being in his 50s, is aptly cast—to a point. Roehler chooses to let the veteran actor play a 20-something Fassbinder, which may well reflect the hard life that lay ahead. Early scenes depicting his stage work, although heavy on exposition, are fairly entertaining. The young Rainer, already prone to violent outbursts, leads his actors through unusual choices, forcing stiff blocking and line readings from a cadre including blonde actress Martha (Frida-Lovisa Hamann), whom Fassbinder announces he will make a star—obviously she’s based on the director’s frequent muse Hanna Schygulla.

Expository dialogue is to be expected in any biopic, and awkward lines (“I’ll make you a star!” is the least of it) kind of work with the awkward staging Roehler deploys to mimic the signature Fassbinder style. When the director completes his first film, he arrogantly boasts that he’ll make seven in the following year. If you know the feverish pace he maintained, you know he made good on that promise-cum-threat. But late in the film the director laments that he can’t rush a masterpiece, which is a handy excuse for Klaus Richter’s speed-script.

Over the course of a busy 134 minutes, Enfant Terrible rushes through Fassbinder’s primary works–and lovers, including Moroccan actor El Hedi ben Salem (Erdal Yildiz), who would star in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and was one of two Fassbinder ex-lovers who would commit suicide. It’s clear that Fassbinder surrounded himself with lost souls. The movie goes to great pains to paint a colorful villain but barely gives him any depth; so he cries a few times—great, but such mood swings seem to come from nowhere.

Although it depicts its subject in a few moments of vulnerability, the movie for the most part focuses on Fassbinder the self-proclaimed boor. Despite the sensationalism, this is at heart a neon cliche that varies the bad-boy artist template simply by throwing in some pertinent leather bar action. And then there’s the Warhol bit. Alexander Scheer plays the wigged-out pop artist, who’s photo-op meeting with Fassbinder gives the filmmakers a chance for their anti-hero to parrot his emotional aesthetic to “go where it hurts.” “Why?” Warhol asks. There’s no good answer, and at this point the film’s camp aesthetic irrevocably undermines any serious attempt to capture a life. Watch one of Fassbinder’s movies instead – there are a lot of them, and even if you haven’t seen them all they have to be better than this.

This lurid biopic of iconoclastic director Rainer Werner Fassbinder too often feels like an R-rated “SNL” skit.
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