Dir/scr: Abel Ferrara. It/US. 2007. 96 mins
Abel Ferrara , king of New York low-life drama, slips into more benign mode than usual with Go Go Tales, a good-natured but somewhat half-baked evocation of life backstage at a lap dancing club.

The ensemble comedy, with its decided stylistic debt to Robert Altman, might best be characterised as A Prairie Home Companion with G-strings, but a slapdash narrative and attempts at touches of screwball comedy will mean the film is equally unlikely to satisfy hardcore Ferraraphiles and to attract mainstream audiences.

While theatrical uptake should be moderate, festival slots will rely on the director's flagging auteur cachet; however, the film's cheerfully risque appeal and ample flesh quotient should help boost DVD afterlife.

Ferrara's comedy is set almost entirely within the walls of Ray Ruby's Paradise, a lap-dancing club run by host and MC Ray (Dafoe) and his Irish accountant partner Jay (Dotrice, pouring on the blarney) with front-of-house business taken care of by gruff majordomo Baron (Hoskins, sounding as if he's impersonating Jimmy Durante). Business is bad, the strippers aren't getting paid, and everything depends on the success of one of the countless lottery tickets invested in by inveterate gambler Ray.

Meanwhile, Ray's brother and main financier, beauty-salon owner Johnnie (Modine) is threatening to pull his support, and eccentric landlady Lilian (veteran Miles, doing her patented foghorn routine) is making one of her regular disruptive visits. But the show must go on, and the clothes must come off.

Go Go Tales is low on narrative, high on admiring footage of bump-and-grind routines by performers including Asia Argento, whose dancer Monroe, described as 'the sexiest, scariest girl in the world', might startle even hardened Ferrara viewers by tongue-kissing a rottweiler.

The overall mood, with its wandering camerawork, seeming improvisation and overlapping dialogue, comes across as an outright tribute to Altman's ensemble comedies, but the film also tips its hat to the seedy background of John Cassavetes' The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie - with perhaps a dash of Atom Egoyan's Exotica.

The main problem is that Ferrara gives an almost exclusively male view of this milieu, with its female characters depicted as decorative, ditzy or neurotic - a brash Argento predictably being the one exception.

The in-house milieu is evoked vividly, although it's not long before you start gasping for a few exteriors, or just some sunlight through a window. Acting that's largely in the broad register exacerbates the overall feeling of claustrophobia, but character players such as Sylvia Miles, plus Pras Michel as a chef obsessed with his organic hot dogs, liven up the mix.

Dafoe looks uncomfortable, especially when singing an onstage ballad, but maintains a certain scuzzy dignity - although his concluding 'That's showbiz' speech takes some swallowing. An intriguing, boisterous soundtrack keeps the atmosphere from flagging too much.

Production companies/backers
Bellatrix Media
Go Go Tales Inc
De Nigris Productions

International Sales
Wild Bunch

Massimo Gatti

Executive producers
Enrico Coletti
Massimo Cortesi

Fabio Cianchetti

Fabio Nunziata

Production design
Frank de Curtis

Francis Kuipers

Main cast
Willem Dafoe
Matthew Modine
Bob Hoskins
Asia Argento
Sylvia Miles
Roy Dotrice