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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Limelight' highlights one of US's more embarrassing court cases

LIMELIGHT (NR)

2 and a half stars out of 4

Easily one of the most savvy and opportunistic entrepreneurs to ever set up shop in the U.S., the Canadian-born Peter Gatien became one of this country's wealthiest and most powerful night club owners and eventually the target of a woefully inept judicial system.

Starting with a $13,000 settlement he received as the result of an eye he lost as youth playing hockey, Gatien started clubs in Ontario, Miami and Atlanta before taking aim at the center of the night life universe in the early '80s.

Not long after landing in New York in the early '80s, Gatien took an old church on 6th Avenue and transformed it into "Limelight" -- a cathedral of decadence that eventually eclipsed the popularity of the infamous "Studio 54." Two more New York clubs soon followed, as did "Limelight" clubs in Chicago and London. If not for a handful of colossally stupid employees and an equal amount of misguided government thugs, Gatien might still be in business and among the most influential men in the world.

Intercutting still photos, a minimum amount of stock footage and questionable re-enactments with candy pastel-framed present day-interviews, director Billy Corben shoots for something along the lines of an Errol Morris procedural but without Morris' humor or steady, measured hand. The movie is sloppy and feels like it's been edited by middle school teen girls working with scrapbook software.

The film's lightweight visuals and iffy presentation are not entirely of Corben's doing. One of the films' producers is Gatien's daughter Jen. This doesn't necessarily mean she wanted the director to paint her father in a more favorable light, but the familial filmmaker-subject connection is hard to ignore.

Another problem Corben faced -- at least among those who have previous knowledge of Gatien's career -- is making a movie about a guy who was a key character in the 2003 live action "Party Monster" where he was portrayed by Dylan McDermott. Not surprisingly, the only people who might have any initial interest in seeing "Limelight" are the same scant few who've already seen "Party Monster."

During his reign, Gatien wore an eye patch and conducted himself in a distinctly curt and direct manner; something that certainly kept order but also may have created fear and ill will amongst his employees. He was highly respected but not particularly well-liked.

Gatien's pirate/rebel aura wasn't lost on recently sworn-in New York mayor Rudy Giuliani who had every intention of continuing the zero-tolerance war on crime he'd so winningly pursued as the state's district attorney. As nightclubs were always reliable havens for mob activity in the past and Gatien (on paper) provided the ideal target, Giuliani and his goons went after him with a vengeance. There was only one problem: he hadn't done anything illegal.

Exactly what was eventually pinned on Gatien and how the government handled his subsequent trial provides "Limelight" with its only riveting moments. Other than Gatien and his lawyer, everyone involved -- on both sides of the law -- acted in a highly unethical manner that more often than not was illegal. If this was a work of fiction, no one would believe it. It almost makes you glad Giuliani is now a private citizen and that he came up short four years ago when trying to secure the Republican nomination for U.S. president.

If you are interested in the film and know nothing of Gatien going in, don't go and spoil it for yourself by going online and discovering how it all panned out. You'll rob yourself of one of the more interesting and -- at least for the US government -- one of the most embarrassing court cases in history. (Magnolia)