The Watcher - War of the Worlds

When reality TV zombies attack

Do you remember the early '90s, when we fell for those seven fresh-faced strangers picked to live together in New York City? We blessed them for agreeing to have their lives taped for our viewing pleasure. We never suspected just how wrong the whole experiment would turn out, that the first season of "The Real World" would give rise to the cruel taskmaster of reality TV, which now rules the airwaves with an irony-free fist.

Now, adding insult to, well, insult, the former roommates and other survivors of the reality genre are left roaming around like Day of the Dead zombies searching for one last brain to chew. These bottom feeders are surfacing on shows like "The Real World/Road Rules Challenge," or the forthcoming "Survivor" tournament of champions, taking the opportunity to milk their pseudo-celebrity for all its worth.

And then comes The Wedding Video, a zombie jamboree of a different variety altogether. The low-budget indie film (which just came out on DVD) reunites 10 former "Real World," um, personalities for a satire on the genre. The project was the brainchild of Norm Korpi, the "bi" roommate from the first season, and his creative partner, Clint Cowen.

The plot goes something like this: Norm is getting married to Sky, and his old pal Lindsey (yes, Q-100's shrill Lindsey Brien who haunts my morning commute) convinces him to hire Clint as his wedding videographer. Clint, who is never shown, collects shaky video footage of the folks coming to the wedding, along with the inevitable drama that develops once they all camp out in the groom-to-be's flashy L.A. manse.

Here's where it gets confusing. In a move to make Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation shenanigans seem tame by comparison, the former castmates appear in the mockumentary as themselves, but also parody the overstated personalities that the producers of "The Real World" presented on the show. The first season's Julie Oliver, for example, shows up as a stringy-haired yokel who now delivers pizzas in Birmingham, while San Francisco's Rachel Campos has evolved into an überbitch.

After a slow start, genuine hilarity ensues once the cast comes together. A scene involving Julie, Heather B. and an enormous red dildo discovered in Norm's closet made me laugh out loud, and an extended drunken poolside sequence features some fun eye candy.

But for the most part, The Wedding Video never gets either particularly real or riveting. The concept of a satire of reality TV presented by players who actually lived through it is brilliantly inspired, but the formula's fundamental flaw is the "stars" themselves. Whether they're doing it for face time or they're really in on the joke, this spoiled subset of celeb-lites still fight like tigers for the spotlight. The film's central thesis that reality isn't always what it appears to be is hackneyed at best.

After all, we knew from the start that "The Real World" was anything but. Didn't we?

Speaking of starlets squeezing the last bit of mileage from a modicum of celebrity, I was fascinated to find Mary Woronov starring in The New Women, also just released on DVD.

Woronov, who got her start in Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls in 1966 and who's appeared in about half a billion B-movies since, brings a shabby allure to this surreal little allegory. Director Todd Hughes puts a post-apocalyptic slant on George Cukor's classic The Women, but ends up creating an overly long episode of "The Twilight Zone."

Woronov plays Lisa LaStrada, a struggling ex-alcoholic with a bitchy sister (Jamie Tolbert) and a cheating husband (Michael White). She's trapped in a small Southwestern hellhole until a mysterious rainstorm lands every man on earth in an irreversible coma.

The surviving women shift into Mad Max mode — by way of Thelma and Louise — and set out in a Winnebago to find a mythic new society run without men. It sounds academic on paper, but Hughes shot the film in moody black-and-white digital video and with the camp meter locked on high. At times these hard-drinking broads and their fisticuffs feel more like early John Waters fare, the Female Trouble hussies after reading Betty Freidan.

The DVD includes a handful of deleted scenes (which sadly show up in color) and interviews with the filmmakers. Too bad it doesn't come with a bottle of bourbon or a bag of mid-grade schwag, which is required for this grotesque road trip to make any sense whatsoever.


i>The Watcher is a weekly column on television, DVDs and other small-screen delights.