One expects, even demands, an unauthorized television movie about Michael Jackson to be lurid and cheesy. Yet what any film about the baby-dangling, plastic-surgery-obsessed superstar should never be is dead boring.
VH1's "Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story" is less a biography of the troubled entertainer than a chintzy series of scenes skimming through the low points of his life, including the child molestation charges he's facing. There are occasional flashes of Jackson as performer, but since this movie was made without Jackson's blessing, don't expect any of his music. Still, the main and only point the movie is presenting, in one sloppily wrapped package, is the ongoing Jackson freak-a-thon.
With all the production values of a 1970s porn film and less emotional depth than an episode of "E! True Hollywood Story," "Man in the Mirror," stars Flex Alexander (from the UPN comedy "One on One) as Jackson, and it's a predictably thankless role. Yes, he's in virtually every scene, but he has the awkward task of trying to portray someone who has been in the public eye for more than 30 years. He mimics Jackson's wispy voice, and as a former dancer he's competent in executing Jackson's most famous moves. Still, he never gets beneath the singer's alarmingly alabaster skin. Trapped in fright makeup that makes him look like a "Night of the Living Dead" extra, Alexander can't muster more than a fourth-rate imitation, though it's not all his fault. Even Jackson's late pal Marlon Brando couldn't have made anything out of Claudia Salter's leaden script or Allan Moyle's scattershot direction.
Of course, the biggest problem is that there's absolutely nothing revelatory here. What don't we already know? It's just one well-worn moment after another, wanly re-created -- the young Jackson gets berated by his brutish father, undergoes lots of plastic surgery, has several very blond, very white children, and frolics around his Neverland Ranch with "Lizzie" Taylor. And scenes with Jackson cooing about sleepovers with young boys are just plain icky.
It's the kind of film that can't even get its timeline right. When Jackson secretly marries Lisa Marie Presley in the Dominican Republic, the date shown is "May 26, 1994." Yet in the next scene, Jackson and his new wife are shown waiting for news reports about their marriage, only to find O.J. Simpson's slow-speed chase with the Los Angeles police on every TV channel. That Simpson moment came on June 17, weeks before Presley formally announced, in an Aug. 1 statement, her marriage.
There's also a shockingly tasteless moment when Jackson, leaving the stage after his self-tribute at Madison Square Garden, asks his assistant the date. "Five minutes after midnight, Sept. 11, 2001," says the man. Cue the next scene with news footage of a plane crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. From beginning to end, "Man in the Mirror" is a movie ripped-from-the-headlines, and used as toilet paper.
Renee Graham can be reached at email@example.com.