Dir: Vondie Curtis Hall. US 2001. 104 minutes

Knocking Mariah Carey in her feature film debut would be easy --and unfair, given what a shambles the entire movie is. Set against the backdrop of the New York club scene in the early 1980's (think Studio 54), Glitter is a weak take-off on A Star Is Born. Were it not for Carey's legions of devoted fans, it's doubtful this film would make a dime. As it is, the picture will hardly cause a ripple at the box office.

The pop superstar plays, appropriately enough, a young singer named Billie Frank who is "discovered" by Manhattan's hottest young disc jockey, Julian Dice (Beesley, a less-threatening version of bad boy Ewan McGregor). Dice becomes her producer/manager and, soon thereafter, her lover. Together they conquer the contemporary pop music world.

But time marches on and, while Billie's star continues to rise, Dice's begins to falter. Record companies and publicists have their own ideas about how best to market her and those ideas don't include Dice. Personal and professional conflicts converge as Billie tries to deal with it all. Adding to her woes is the lingering pain of having been abandoned as a child by her loving but drug-addicted mother.

A melodrama worthy of daytime television, Glitter falters on just about every front. Kate Lanier's script, from a story by Cheryl L. West, is a succession of obvious plot points with no real story to connect them. The final 15 minutes --when the old "the show must go on" routine kicks in' is particularly ludicrous.

Everyone's acting is wooden, from the bit players to the leads. Poor Beesley, who displayed such charm and charisma in the recent romantic comedy, Kill Me Later, can't seem to rise above the sappy dialogue and puppy dog looks he is expected to deliver. Carey smiles a lot but fails to register any personality. Somebody obviously told her that screen actors don't go in for the type of flamboyant gestures and overt facial expressions required of stage actors or divas trying to reach the last row in a large stadium; instead, they let their eyes convey the feelings, thoughts and emotions of their characters. Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell her that even this demands subtly and a certain amount of variety. In Glitter, Carey's eyeballs are the only part of her even working, and while they continually widen, peer downwards, gaze sideways and pretty much go blank, never do they take on any semblance of character.

Director Hall, who helmed Gridlock'd but is probably best known as an actor, fills the screen with paroxysms of 80's excess: music, lights, dancing --but no drug-taking as this is a PG-13 movie-- and a camera that swooshes here and there like Superman hurtling through space. The frenzied energy and hedonistic pretensions of the period are captured in wide panning shots which suggest updated Biblical renditions of Sodom and Gomorrah, but somehow it all feels fake, as though it's a world which exists only between the words "action" and "cut."

It's difficult to say whether Carey will develop into a credible actress, and it's probably unfair to judge her harshly on her first starring role, though she has a long way to go.

Pro co: Maroon Entertainment, Laurence Mark Productions
US dist: Twentieth Century Fox
Intl dist: Sony International
Prod: Laurence Mark
Scr: Kate Lanier
Cinematographer: Geoffrey Simpson
Pro des: Dan Bishop
Ed: Jeff Freeman
Music: Terence Blanchard
Main cast: Mariah Carey, Max Beesley, Da Brat, Tia Texada