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Altman's Fashion Circus

Ready to Wear (Pret-a-Porter) directed by Robert Altman at Sony Harvard Square

By Sorelle B. Braun

For those who crave fashion, Robert Altman's "Ready to Wear" serves up a multi-course feast. If you're the kind who rises early on Saturday mornings to watch "Style" with Elsa Klensch, you'll gorge yourself with celebrity sightings, feeling very in-the-know when you recognize Sonia Rykiel's signature red hair across a crowded room. However, those who think Gaultier is a sort of scruffy beard will find "Pret-a-Porter" about as filling as a stingy hors d'oeuvre tray.

The film carries one of the glitziest casts in history--everyone who is anyone flew in to mug for Altman at the annual week of pret-a-porter fashion shows in Paris. Since it doesn't bother to conclude its numerous plots, there's room for everyone to be a star in "Ready to Wear."

Those who can follow the chaos may have as much fun as Altman obviously did chasing the Beautiful, Famous and Catty as they prepare to show off their new collections. "Ready to Wear" is certainly fun to watch, but with the investigative depth of Altman's previous "Nashville" and "The Player" exposes only that (Surprise!) the fashion industry is filled with lots of shallow, glamorous people. Altman is simply overwhelmed by the chaos, running to and fro with his camera to catch the glitter.

Thrill as you spot Claudia Schiffer and her favorite magician at a chic party. Quiver at Lauren Bacall's nasty send-up of Diana Vreeland. Gasp at Cher's cocktail-party faux pas--a dead-serious tirade on the victimization of women through fashion. But Cher, the best thing to happen to chain links since the fence, can only briefly splash reality in the face of Altman's flimsy show.

Kim Basinger is a natural as FAD-TV's star fashion reporter, Kitty Potter, a dizzy blonde with a pronounced Southern accent. The studio publicity for "Ready to Wear" gushes that Basinger only had ten days of preparation time for the role--what an agonizing stretch it must have been for her. Kitty is meant to be our Virgil, adding structure and guiding us through the pitfalls of fashion hell. But Basinger, like Altman, his actors and audience, gives up trying to understand what's going on and instead enjoys the spectacle.

Sophia Loren is mythic as Isabella de la Fontaine, the merry widow of recently deceased fashion czar Olivier de la Fontaine. In a world obsessed with interpreting fashion statements, her classic black funeral ensemble accessorized by a stiletto-red stole and umbrella-sized hat speaks volumes about her feelings for her husband. Everyone assumes that his death must have been a vindictive murder, until police discover that he was choked by a particularly malicious sandwich au jambon

Sergei Oblomov (Marcello Mastroianni), a sinister Russian tailor, is Mme, de la Fontaine's long-lost first husband, inexplicably sneaking through the most stylish closets in town until they are reunited. Loren pays homage to the couple's steamy screen history with a reenactment of a striptease she last performed for Mastroianni in 1964. We should all look this good in garters when we're sixty-something.

Julia Roberts and Tim Robbins earn their tickets to Paris by playing reporters who get locked in the same hotel room for a week, jockeying to cover the murder, or each other. After a few hours, they drop all pretense of working and dive in bed. Their lack of interest in reporting is second only to Altman's. Avoiding the flash of the fashion world, they don't miss much--though Lyle Lovett might do well to ask his wife what she was doing with Robbins under that bedsheet.

Fashion editors Linda Hunt. Sally Kellerman and Tracey Ullman bare all to sign Milo, the world's top fashion photographer, who looks like Bono on a bad hair day, and has a irritating penchant for taking souvenir snapshots of their groveling.

In another ring at Altman's circus, Terri Garr shops to satisfy husband Danny Aiello's hankering for duds he just can't wear in the rust belt. Though Aiello looks smashing in a powder pink Chanel suit, the story, like so many others in "Ready to Wear," is dropped like a bad hemline and we never see them again.

"Ready to Wear" has the seductive, glamorous charm of that infamous Christian LaCroix "pouf" skirt. It looks like it's to die for, but you won't want to be entangled in its frothy net for more than ten minutes.

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