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By Michael Eilers

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Robert Altman's latest farce, "Ready to Wear," has many of the features that are now considered hallmarks of an Altman film: a half-dozen plots taking place at the same time, a healthy amount of satire and enough big-name stars to make the Milky Way feel inadequate.

This time Altman has decided to explode the myths of glamour and grandeur that surround the annual Paris Spring fashion show. The film takes nearly two and a half hours to tell us what one could learn from a five minute spot on CNN: the fashion industry is just as corrupt, shallow, and full of greed as we always suspected it was.

Not that this wasn't a fun film to watch. Paris is beautiful in the spring, and Altman's trademark style of cutting back and forth between simultaneous "episodes" keeps the viewer busy trying to keep track of who's having sex with whom. There are subplots about everything from a designer who sells his mother's company to a Texas boot factory, to a fashion photographer who delights in taking compromising photos.

The plot of the film is loosely based around the frantic preparation and hype surrounding the debut of the Spring fashion collections. Celebrities and reporters flood Paris just before the show, and Altman uses the resulting ego conflicts and power struggles to create stories about betrayal, greed, and other fun stuff.

None of the individual subplots are strong enough to stand alone, so Altman seems to have thrown together as many as he could. However, the stories are so short and shallow that it's nearly impossible to get involved in them, or care about what happens to the characters. Between the comic scenes, Altman inserts social commentary intended to tell the "truth" about fashion and it's oppression of women. Lauren Bacall, Tim Robbins, and Julia Roberts are just a few of the heavy-hitters on the cast. However, many of the stars mumble their way through their parts. Forest Whitaker ("The Crying Game,") seems uncomfortable as a gay grunge-fashion designer, and Kim Bassinger turns her role as Kitty Potter, fashion reporter, into a performance so irritating that theatergoers groaned every time she appeared.

Not surprisingly, the strongest performances come from veteran actors such as Sophia Lauren and Marcello Mastroianni, both long-time stars of Italian cinema. The cast includes models and celebrities playing themselves, and many actual designers from the Paris scene.

"Ready to Wear" was intended to shock the viewer, but it's really no surprise to find out that fashion designers talk trash about each other, megabuck deals are often signed in hotel bedrooms, and celebrities have monstrous egos. The characters enter the story as vain, superficial blowhards, and they exit that way, untouched and unreal as the fashion world itself. The result is a film that shoots past farce and goes straight into cynicism, portraying the fashion industry as a bunch of petty people who will probably do it all over again the exact same way next spring.

"Ready To Wear" is playing at the Catalina Theater, 881-0616.

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